Primrose franchise terminated after former worker accused of fondling children

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Ballantyne daycare could face criminal charges after a teacher there was arrested this week for inappropriate contact with children.

Mecklenburg County Rep. Scott Stone formally requested that District Attorney Andrew Murray seek criminal charges against the Primrose School of Ballantyne management. He requested that the DA's office prosecute four people on child endangerment charges after Joseph Starnes was allowed to return as a caregiver the day after management was informed of his actions.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police on Monday arrested Starnes, a teacher at the private preschool and daycare, for inappropriately touching two boys. Additional charges were filed Wednesday against Starnes after police said more victims came forward.

(Joseph Starnes)

"The management has shown considerable disregard for our most defenseless and innocent population and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law for their actions," Stone said.

[RELATED: Ballantyne daycare worker accused of fondling children faces more charges]

The request came hours after the North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education issued a summary suspension against Primrose School of Ballantyne. The action requires the school to close its doors at the end of the business day Thursday.

State officials said they determined that Primrose is not a safe and healthy environment for children and that emergency action is required to protect the health, safety and welfare of children.

Channel 9 also uncovered more than a dozen state violations since 2014 at Primrose School of Ballantyne.

Those violations include:

  • Staff members grabbed children by the arm
  • A child's arm was injured when two staff members changed the child's diaper
  • A staff member was suspected of being under the influence while caring for children
  • On two separate occasions, a staff member slapped a 1-year-old child in the face
  • Children were left unsupervised on the outside playground

[RELATED: Daycare where alleged sex abuse happened cited for several violations]

Primrose School of Ballantyne also has a one-star license, the lowest rating a state can give a child care facility.

Officials said they also issued two prior administrative actions against the facility for noncompliance with state child care requirements including supervision of children, discipline of children and criminal record checks.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services statement: 

The N.C. Division of Child Development and Early Education is charged with oversight of the safety of child care facilities. Primrose School of Ballantyne’s failure to immediately remove a safety threat posed by their employee, along with a troubling history of noncompliance, resulted in the summary suspension of the facility’s operating license. – N.C. Department of Health and Human Services

Child Care Resources, Inc., in Charlotte, North Carolina, will be available to assist families in locating other safe child care options. Parents of displaced children are encouraged to contact Child Care Resources at (704) 348-2181 for assistance.

The Primrose School of Ballantyne is a business franchise that is owned by Mary and Craig Schroeder. They would not comment on the summary suspension.

Parents told Channel 9 they've been told the school is going to appeal the suspension. But the CEO of the Primrose School Franchising Company Jo Kirchner issued a statement on the situation:

Our thoughts and prayers are with the students and their families at this time. These incidents are the kind that no parent should ever face. We take these allegations very seriously. We are terminating the franchise agreement with this franchisee.

We are working diligently to support the school’s families to find alternate care solutions for their children, and ask that you refer any further questions to the law enforcement agencies involved in this ongoing investigation.

Starnes connected to two other local schools

Channel 9 has investigated Starnes since he was arrested and charged with multiple counts of indecent liberties with a child. Channel 9 uncovered he has employment connections to two other schools in the Charlotte area.

Jason Szempruch, owner of Kids R Kids in Blakeney, confirmed that Starnes worked at the school.

"We are not part of any investigation," Szempruch said. "Absolutely nothing happened. There were no allegations of inappropriate behavior on his part."

Szempruch assured parents that his facility has extraordinary safety procedures and policies in place to prevent abuse of any kind.

"We have glass walls that separate the classrooms, web cameras all over the school," Szempruch said.

Starnes was only employed at his facility for six months in 2015 and left on his own without incident, Szempruch said. He added that Starnes has an undergraduate and graduate degrees in early childhood education, years of experience and a clean background check.

"Fully cleared and approved by the state of North Carolina Division of Child Development," Szempruch said.

Szempruch told Channel 9 that Starnes' resume listed Brain Balance, a learning center in Pineville, as a previous employer. Brain Balance confirmed he was employed at their facility.

Brain Balance Achievement Centers released this statement:

Mr. Starnes has not been employed with us since April 1, 2015. We received no complaints about Mr. Starnes, and are not aware of any impropriety during his employment.

The safety of our students is our top priority. We conduct background checks on all our employees and have procedures in place to assure the safety of all our students.

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