Illegal daycare for 52 children in Nashville allowed to reopen without consequences by the state

An ongoing WSMV4 Investigation into a daycare director showed she operated an illegal daycare in East Nashville for 52 children for six months.
Updated: Feb. 2, 2023 at 5:45 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - An ongoing WSMV4 Investigation into daycare director Holly Jennings showed she operated an illegal daycare in East Nashville for 52 children for six months without the state realizing she was even open, according to parents and staff.

Even after Jennings was shut down for operating Little Tree Schoolhouse, an illegal childcare center in March 2022, the state department of human services then allowed her to temporarily reopen a month later without penalty of any kind.

As a result of her reopening and then ultimately shutting down again in July 2022, a WSMV4 Investigation revealed parents then filed civil warrants, claiming Jennings took more than $20,000 in prepaid tuition money and payments for other fees.

Our ongoing reporting has since confirmed the amount is much higher, now obtaining a civil warning in which a judge is ordering Jennings to pay back more than $28,000 to a single family alone.

Kam Coleman, a former employee of Little Tree Schoolhouse, said there were 52 children at the center, a number confirmed by two separate parents.

Given its size, Coleman assumed Jennings had gone through the process of getting licensed by the state.

“Nobody knew, actually. We were blindsided by the whole situation,” Coleman told WSMV4 Investigates.

After Little Tree Schoolhouse was ordered to be shut down in March 2022, parents requested a video meeting with the Tennessee Department of Human Services, which grants licenses for daycares. WSMV4 Investigates obtained a recording of that meeting, but we are not naming the parents as we have not been able to reach them all for comment. “

I think the most pressing question is what is the status of little tree schoolhouse? is it licensed to be operating?” asked one parent.

“Not at this time,” answered Cynthia Roberts, identified as a supervisor with DHS.

“It’s sort troubling to certainly learn that your school has not been licensed. And you’ve haven’t been told for six months,” another parent said. “That is concerning to us,” Roberts said. “Anytime agencies are operating out of compliance with operating without oversight, that makes us nervous. Especially the number of children she was keeping.”

Parents reacted with disbelief when Roberts explained that Jennings would not face penalties by the state.

“(Jennings) jumped the gun, basically,” Robert said. “If we find her illegally operating once, she kind of gets a warning.”

Roberts went on to say that if Jennings was caught operating an illegal daycare again, she could be fined or face jail time.

But in emails to parents, obtained by WSMV4 Investigates, Jennings apologizes for “interruption of care” and that they were in the process of installing a few fire prevention system, but does not disclose that the state forced her to close for being unlicensed.

Email to parents from Holly  Jennings does not disclose that the state deparment of human...
Email to parents from Holly Jennings does not disclose that the state deparment of human services shut down the daycare for being unlicensed.(WSMV)

State records show that Little Tree Schoolhouse was shut down on March 18, 2022, and was allowed to reopen on April 22, 2022, on a temporary basis for six months.

What happened at the end of that six-month period was revealed in a WSMV4 Investigation.

Jennings ultimately closed the daycare in July 2022, and families sued to reclaims thousands of dollars in prepaid tuition or for other fees.

While Jennings wrote in emails that she would repay, seven families still haven’t received any money. Our undercover investigation then revealed that Jennings is in the process of trying to open another daycare. “It’s really shameful and hurtful to know that other people are still going through this. And she just has no remorse,” Coleman said.

WSMV4 Investigates called and texted Jennings for days, and when we arrived at her new proposed daycare, she texted and asked us to leave. Court records show Jennings had obtained legal representation, but that lawyer did not respond to a call or email by WSMV4 Investigates.

Texts from Holly Jennings to WSMV4 Investigates
Texts from Holly Jennings to WSMV4 Investigates(WSMV)

Coleman said she doesn’t just sympathize, she also is owed back pay. Little Tree Schoolhouse closed in the midst of her maternity leave.

“Bills on top of bills, it was very stressful. Breaking down like every day,” Coleman said.

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