By Greg Hanlon
The fallout from the disaster at what was once Brooklyn Children’s Academy Preschool continues. Along with the more than 40 parents who were forced to scramble for day care after the school abruptly closed in November, the school’s six teachers have been left to pick up the pieces as well. Parents and teachers alike were appalled after seeing the unfinished, uninhabitable conditions of the school’s new location on 25 Dean Street after it moved from its original Pierrepont Street location at the beginning of November. The space – which was without heat or running water and had exposed wires and other hazards – turned out to be unlicensed from the Department of Health and without a Certificate of Occupancy from the Department of Buildings (DOB). All totaled, the school’s Executive Director, Andy Lewis, racked up 17 violations from the Heath Department, the DOB and the Fire Department. Despite promises that the space would soon be made inhabitable and the school would open in the near future, the school and its offices have been closed since early November, leaving parents to scramble for day care and the teachers to scramble for money. Even before the school closed, there were signs that things were amiss when teachers’ checks repeatedly bounced over the summer. One teacher, Eloise White, had her health insurance coverage canceled for a month this past summer without her knowledge. It wasn’t until her husband tried to pick up a prescription that she found out she was no longer insured. “Things were getting kooky with the checks bouncing, and it really came to a head with the insurance,” White said. White also said that the school was constantly short on supplies. When she asked administrators to buy supplies, she said she was told to have parents bring in their own supplies. “Given how much parents were paying in tuition, I didn’t feel comfortable with that,” she said. White’s problems with Lewis and other BCAP administrators boiled over on the day of the move to the Dean Street location. Upon seeing the conditions, White indignantly called out administrators for what she felt was a negligent, unsafe environment for children. “I was just absolutely shocked by the condition of the place. I told them: ‘You’re not going to operate this as a center for children, are you?’” she said. Later that day, she was fired. White said the reason Lewis gave her for her dismissal was that she had been drinking a cup of coffee in the presence of children and was therefore in violation of safety regulations. Lewis also cited general insubordination as a reason White was fired. But White and other teachers contend that her firing was an act of pure vindictiveness from an administration who could not stand to be confronted about their irresponsibility. “She got fired for speaking her mind,” said Chimikia Peart, an assistant teacher. Attempts to contact Lewis for this article and a previous one by phone and email have been unsuccessful. On the answering machine for his cell phone, Lewis said he is on vacation and cannot be reached until January 7. He specifically asks the caller not to leave business-related messages. Since her firing, While has landed a job as a substitute teacher. The same cannot be said for some of the other BCAP teachers who were abruptly laid off when the school closed. Peart, for instance, has been unable to find another job. She said that the timing of the closing was awful in terms of her job prospects. “It has been a lot more difficult for me than if it had happened in June,” she said. Peart is trying to file for unemployment, but her efforts have been frustrated because she has been able to get from Lewis pay stubs to prove her employment from this past summer, when the employees were paid with wire transfers (many of which bounced). She also said that the five bad checks from Lewis have led to her overdrawing her checking account. “I’m behind on all my bills – my phone bill, my cable bill. I have to call my mom and aunt to get money,” she said. Peart estimates that Lewis owes her in excess of $1,300. When she last spoke to him on December 18, Lewis told her he would cut her a check with a lump sum payment, but Peart has not seen the check or heard from Lewis ever since. Another teacher, Joanna Nieves, was recently contacted by a check-cashing place after her BCAP check bounced. Crystal Bishop, another teacher, said Lewis owes her $700, plus an additional $30 from fees for bounced checks. “He hasn’t responded to my calls or emails,” she said of Lewis. In addition to the money he owes the teachers, Lewis owes at least $47,000 to 28 families, according to Jim Findlay, a parent who is tabulating what parents have lost. But Findlay says there are at least 21 families who have not yet reported what they are owed. “It looks like the total will be in the high $70,000-$80,000 range,” he said.