Daycare director admits in video to running illegal childcare center
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - The Zoom meeting started off pleasantly enough.
But roughly 40 minutes later, one parent would start cursing and others would incredulously be asking for confirmation that the daycare their children had been attending for months was in fact unlicensed the entire time.
It was March 2022 and Holly Jennings, director of Little Tree Schoolhouse, had gathered her parents in person and via Zoom for a town hall meeting to explain why the daycare had suddenly closed.
Jennings, sitting amongst the parents, said that she was opening the floor to answer questions.
And parents had plenty of them.
What State/City documents reveal
A WSMV4 Investigation revealed that the state had closed the Little Tree Schoolhouse on March 18, 2022. Little Tree Schoolhouse shut down, much to the surprise of parents.
Our investigation then showed after the state gave Jennings a temporary license to operate for six months, but she eventually closed the daycare.
Parents then sued in civil court for tens of thousands of dollars ((documents 2 - attach all the civil lawsuits)), claiming that Jennings promised to pay them back for tuition dollars and other fees.
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When Jennings failed to show up for the hearings, a judge issued default judgements for the families.
WSMV4 Investigates has confirmed that two families have received either full or partial repayments.
Others report that they have received nothing, including one family with a court order for Jennings to pay them $28,037.
Our investigation then found that Jennings intends to open another daycare under another name.
The March 2022 Zoom call
But during the March 2022 Zoom call, which WSMV4 obtained from someone attending the meeting, all parents wanted to know was why they had never been told that their children’s daycare was, in fact, illegal.
Because WSMV4 has not been able to contact all of the parents on the Zoom call, we are not mentioning names or revealing faces.
“We want to know are the state officers or whoever if offering licensure, were they aware that the daycare had children every day for months without the licensure?” asked one mother.
“Well, they are now,” Jennings replied.
“Holly, they were not,” said another parent.
“No, they were not! I mean, yeah. We are working with the state to get licensure as quickly as possible,” Jennings said.
“I just heard you say that you were operating illegally. Is that correct?” asked one father.
“Uh, yes,” Jennings said.
Later into the meeting, a father speaks via Zoom, visibly upset.
“This has messed up a lot of people’s lives and schedules and it is just ... getting a little emotional because this has been ... unreal,” he said. “Our backs are against the wall. We have nowhere to go, no one to call, no childcare, no schools are taking anything.”
In an email to parents after the school closed in March, Jennings cited a need for a new fire system as the reason the state stopped allowing them to operate.
“The new fire alarm that was installed does not mean there wasn’t working fire alarms,” Jennings told parents in the meeting.
But when pressed about the lack of license, Jennings said she wanted to provide daycare without interruption.
“I thought it would be resolved before it was ever an issue. I thought that it would be resolved in a matter of weeks,” Jennings said.
“I haven’t heard an apology. About s***,” the father in the Zoom call said. “Codes take a long time, you know why? They keep people safe. So what’s the problem?”
While Jennings had not agreed to multiple requests for an interview, she did express her regret in the video about operating without the state’s knowledge.
“I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Would I make that decision now? No. I would not,” Jennings said.
When WSMV4 Investigates first obtained interviews with parents, emails and court records, we reached Jennings by phone, explaining that the call was not on the record, but explained to her everything we had uncovered.
We then said we would call back the exact time a day later to see if we could arrange an interview.
When we called the following day, she did not answer.
We then began to send text messages, to which she didn’t respond.
We then went to the location of the new proposed daycare, but Jennings did not come to the door.
Instead, she texted that she did not want to speak with us and told us that we were standing on private property.
Three days before our story about the Zoom call with parents, we texted again, explaining our findings and asking for an interview.
She responded by asking for us to send our questions to her attorney.
We then explained that we do not provide questions in advance of an interview, and asked if she wanted us to contact her attorney to request an interview.
She did not respond.
Thursday afternoon, Jennings sent a statement, writing about the March 2022 zoom call, “I held this meeting to have a direct dialogue with parents to explain the complexity relating to the pending licensure; I was not running from anything and accepted responsibility and offered transparency. While there was a mix of emotions, as you can see from the video, many parents were understanding and their children are still enrolled.”
Read her full statement
If you’d like to check your own child’s daycare to see if they are licensed, click here.
WSMV4 Investigates will stay on this story to see if the state ultimately grants Jennings a license, and will report back with any new findings.
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