Is Nicaea Academy retaliating against parents?
Photo: Video by fox4now.com
CAPE CORAL - Three parents who filed complaints with the Department of Children and Families against a Cape Coral daycare are now accusing the school of retaliation.
"Is there any doubt in your mind this is retaliation?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.
"No," said Theresa Hill. "No doubt at all."
Cape Coral police and DCF are currently investigating the Nicaea Academy. The parents who filed the complaints say they have received large bills and are being hounded by collection agents after they withdrew their kids from the daycare.
"It's a retaliation," said Hill. "It's a definite retaliation."
Fox 4 caught up with Hill outside of the Children's Advocacy Center in Fort Myers. At the request of DCF, Hill took her 3-year-old daughter Anna to be interviewed and examined after she claimed to have been touched in her "no-no spot" at the daycare. She didn't say if it was an adult or child.
Hill took her daughter out of the school on Nov. 9 and filed a report with DCF and police. A few days later, she got a bill for $180 - which included a collection agent's fee, $35 for a "late pick up" fee and $75 for books.
"I know nothing about a book nor have I ever seen my daughter with a book," said Hill. "They're nitpicking and finding things, saying I was late, trying to say I owe for a book that I was completely unaware of."
Last week the school accused "a small group" of parents of being on a "mission to destroy" the school.
When Jackie Clement took her daughter out of the school, she says she didn't even have time to digest it before it was sent to collections.
She withdrew her daughter after her arm was injured when she said a teacher "yanked" her arm to break up a fight.
Her daughter now has to wear a cast.
"They've already turned us into collections," said Clement. "And we've only had the bill for a week."
Another mother, Cassey Duncan, feels the big bills don't add up. After withdrawing her daughter, a collection agent sent her a bill for $750.
"I feel like it's retaliation," said Duncan. "Because I removed my child from their school when all I was thinking about was her safety."
An attorney for the school says if a parent leaves the academy without giving two weeks notice, "they are billed for those two weeks."
But Duncan says she paid $90 for a week, so that should have cost her $180 not $750.
"So how did they come up with $750?," asked Grant.
"That's what I want to know," said Duncan.
Fox 4 contacted the school's attorney, Marc Shapiro, who said the $750 charge sounds like an error. He says the bills were not meant to go to a collections agency and called that "an office mistake."
After bringing the parents' concerns to his attention, Shapiro said the school would temporarily suspend collections.
"Nicia [sic] Academy has asked the collection company to suspend the collections efforts," said Shapiro in a statement, "until further notice."
But that's only temporary. The statement goes on to say if they are cleared in the DCF investigation the bills could go back out.
"After the final report from the Department of Children and Families clears the school," said Shapiro, "Nicia [sic] Academy may reconsider going forward with collection efforts."
"I think it's a retaliation," said Hill in response, "against all the parents that pulled their kids out of the school."
Duncan showed us a letter from Shapiro's law firm as another example of what she believes to be retaliation. In it, the firm, which represents the school, threatens to sue her for slander after she spoke after her daughter was injured in class and the school waited an hour to tell her.
"The academy will not idly stand by and allow this misconduct to occur," the letter says, threatening legal action against the mother.
The school continues to deny any wrongdoing.
DCF and police are still investigating.
Nicaea Academy statement
Every class room is under recorded video surveillance. These surveillance tapes are kept in the ordinary course of business to safeguard against the type of allegations that are currently being made against Nicia Academy. The surveillance tapes were reviewed and show that no inappropriate conduct happened at the time and place of the alleged abuse or at any time for that matter. These recordings were turned over to The Department of Children and Families (DCF). Nicia Academy feels quite certain that neither they or any of its employees did anything inappropriate and that Nicia Academy will ultimately be fully vindicated after an investigation is conducted.
Nicia Academy has every parent sign a contract. In the agreement if the parents decide to leave the academy without giving two weeks prior notice they are billed for those two weeks they are contractually bound to pay. It was a internal office mistake to turn over bills to collection at this time. It is the school policy to turn over unpaid tuition charges to collections as stated in the school handbook. Nicia Academy has asked the collection company to suspend the collections efforts until further notice. After the final report from the Department of Children and Families clears the school Nicia Academy may reconsider going forward with collection efforts.