EL RENO, Okla. (KFOR) – A local church is standing firm against Oklahoma DHS after the agency ordered its child care facility to close because of noncompliance.
DHS said the Community Kids Learning Center will not allow state agents to conduct required visits. The facility said that’s because it’s considered a ministry, not a daycare.
“We were never a daycare. We were always a ministry of the church,” said Lead Pastor Danny Hart.
Legacy Community Church in El Reno is at odds with OKDHS. The pastor said agents are no longer welcome inside.
“They were like, ‘No, we’re coming in.’ And I’m like, ‘No, you’re not.’ This is a ministry of the church. This isn’t just some daycare that you can just run over,” Hart said.
Pastor Hart said the Community Kids Learning Center’s aim is to help parents. They originally registered with the state to reach more parents through child-care subsidies.
Ten months ago, Hart said the relationship with DHS went south after Hart said agents ramped up investigations.
“It just got ridiculous. And all of this time, it was so disruptive. And they interviewed our assistant pastor and they lied about things that I said to try to bait her,” said Hart. “It’s to the point now to where they’re disrespecting the parents or disrespecting the teachers.”
Hart said many of the accusations are incorrect.
According to DHS’s Summary of Facility Monitoring report, there are substantiated and monitoring complaints dating back to 2019, including workers not having fingerprint or background checks, babies sleeping in swings, in cribs with blankets and other items and a DHS worker watching an employee remove a blanket from an infant’s face. Hart said he and the staff have learned from each one.
“We have our plan of correction and we move on. If it’s a mistake that continues, they don’t work here anymore,” said Hart.
In February, Hart told DHS he wanted to part ways.
“I told them we didn’t want them here. We don’t want their license. We don’t need their license. We’re operating as a ministry of a church and the church is protected under the first amendment,” said the lead pastor. “And I gave a letter to all the parents about how we’re not accepting subsidies.”
Hart said the learning center then switched to private pay, asking parents what they could afford to pay. Hart was prepared to absorb any costs lost.
DHS told Hart if the Learning Center did not want to operate with a license, they can follow exemptions.
“None of those really fit for what our situation is,” he said. “What’s missing from any of those exemptions is the church.”
Hart then played a voicemail an agent left for his ministry.
“If you can’t get us an exemption that’s in a letter form, that you’re going to claim, then we will have no choice but to issue an emergency order. We will be there with law enforcement. And at that point, we would have to call all the parents to have them come and get their children, something we don’t want to do,” said the agent on the phone.
Thursday, agents delivered a letter ordering the facility to shut down immediately. However, Hart said the letter was not a court order. The officer on scene allegedly agreed.
“’So is it enforceable?’” Hart allegedly asked the officer. “He’s like, ‘No.’ But this is the same paperwork that [DHS] has shown other people in Oklahoma to intimidate them to close them down,” said Hart.
Oklahoma DHS declined an on-camera interview and sent KFOR the following statement:
“An emergency order to cease care of children was issued to the Community Kids Learning Center on Friday, April 22 because the program repeatedly denied access for OKDHS to conduct statutorily-required licensing visits. The Oklahoma Child Care Facilities Licensing Act (10 O.S., § 401-410), enacted in 1963, authorizes OKDHS to administer the child care licensing program. Child care licensing standards must be adhered to by all licensed facilities as they are critical to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of Oklahoma’s children; and licensing visits ensure minimum licensing standards are being met.
We continue to urge all Oklahoma parents to review their child care program’s monitoring reports on our Child Care Locator at http://childcarefind.okdhs.org/childcarefind/”OKLAHOMA DHS SPOKESPERSON
Hart said he knows the battle is not over, but feels compelled to take on DHS.
“We’ll do it. And we’ve counted the cost, you know, to our reputation to all of it. And so, you know, it’s a righteous cause,” said Hart.