EL RENO, Okla. (KFOR) – Former employees and parents of Community Kids Learning Center are speaking out after DHS ordered the facility to close, because the lead pastor won’t let investigators inside.

“As a parent, we have to speak up for our kids,” said an anonymous parent, who wanted to hide her identity out of safety concerns.

“[The pastor] is very much his way or the highway,” said former employee Jessica Kanehl.

“It was a weird place. So, I’m not going to lie. I was like, ‘I got to get out of here,’” said former employee Felix Sharp.

The lead pastor of Legacy Community Church, Danny Hart, argues the program is a ministry and not a daycare, as first reported by the El Reno Tribune.

“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 Pastor Hart.

“It was a ministry first, a daycare second,” said Kanehl.

“If you’re taking care of children, you’re not just a ministry,” said the unnamed mother.

DHS told Community Kids Learning Center they will have to shut down since they are not allowed inside to inspect the facility

According to DHS’s Summary of Facility Monitoring for Community Kids, there has been a slew of substantiated and monitored complaints dating back to 2019. Former employees said they witnessed many of them.

“There was many times that we were left over ratio,” said an anonymous employee, hiding her face and name out of fear for her safety. “Which is a big no no.”

“I was in a room with four to five year olds and I think we had seven or eight in there with one person,” said Felix Sharp, a former employee. “[The pastor] would serve curdling milk. If it looked fine and it was expired, he would give it to the kids anyways.”

“[There were] children sleeping in swings, sleeping in beds with blankets, bottles being fed in baby beds,” said the anonymous employee. “If we found a mask, whether it was a cloth mask or paper mask, he would ask us to throw it away. So, he would have us basically throw away their belongings.”

The unnamed employee also recalled a strange situation on the daycare’s playground.

“We had a child who once flipped off another child,” she said. “[The pastor] told the child that that just means Jesus loves you. And went around flipping off kids on the playground to employees in the building.”

Photo goes with story
Community Kids Learning Center. Photo from KFOR.

The former workers told KFOR at times things got physical.

“I saw him grab little children by the shirts. I’ve seen him yell at kids,” said Sharp. “He pinched a kid at one time. I did witness it personally.”

The unnamed mother told News 4 that’s why she pulled her toddler out of the program.

“She came to me and said that there is children that are being hit on. I said, ‘Were you hit?’ and [she] said ‘Yes, I was hit.’”

However, not all employees witnessed the physical allegations.

“I never seen it for myself. So, I can’t say yes or no,” said Kanehl.

Pastor Hart didn’t want to address the new claims to News 4 Thursday night, because the interview would’ve interfered with a church event. Instead, he sent us the following statement:

“We sure love these folks, whoever they are. If they haven’t found Jesus yet, we pray that they do.”

PASTOR DANNY HART

DHS issued the following statement to News 4 Wednesday:

“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/

DHS SPOKESPERSON