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Parents plan to file suit against The King's Academy Preschool after alleged 'force-feeding'

Posted at 5:16 PM, Oct 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-12 19:17:44-04

An incident at The King's Academy Preschool is under investigation and now the parents of the child involved say they plan to file a lawsuit against the school. 

In July, an 18-month old child came home from the school with bruises on both of her cheeks. The school claims the child was choking at the teacher was trying to take food out of her mouth, but the child's parents and local and state agencies say surveillance video clearly shows something else. 

"We thought they were going to do the right thing. It's King's Academy, it's what they stand for, their Christian faith," said Jamie Cleary, the mother of the child involved. 

Reports from the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Health, and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office all say the surveillance video of the incident in July shows the toddler was force-fed by a teacher at The King's Academy Preschool. 

The school maintains the teacher was putting her finger in the child's mouth to get food out because the child was choking.

"I bawled when I saw that statement because it was such a blatant lie and it kind of made us have to relieve everything all over again," said Cleary. 

Cleary said before she saw the video, the choking story was also told to her by a director at the preschool who said she saw the video too. 

"She tells me, and I want to let you know I saw the video and I saw exactly, her words were 'exactly' what happened," added Cleary. 

The president of the school Randal Marin said he cannot release the video to NewsChannel 5. Cleary said she's moving forward with a lawsuit because the director she claims lied to her, is still employed. 

"I just want parents to know the truth about The King's Academy and who is running The King's Academy, and it is not, I don't think it's a safe place, I mean these babies can't even defend themselves," she added.

NewsChannel 5 has not seen the video, but DCF and sheriff's reports say investigators saw the video and saw the teacher pushing the child's head back several times as well as hold her forehead back while forcing food into her mouth. 

"I've never seen my husband cry and it was like the first time I've seen those emotions from him," said Cleary. "She grabbed her face, put her head like this and held it." 

"This is obviously a clear-cut case of an assault and battery on an 18-month old child who obviously can't speak or defend themselves," said Stuart Kaplan, one of the attorneys representing the Clearys. 

Kaplan said they gave the school an opportunity to hold all of those involved accountable, including a director the Clearys claim gave them a different account of what was on the video before they saw it for themselves. 

Martin told NewsChannel 5 he stands by the statement he provided last week that the teacher was helping the child who was choking. 

"My point is, King's trying to claim this, then just show the video, show parents the video, show everyone the video," said Cleary.

Cleary said the president described the force-feeding incident to her before she ever saw the video. 

"He goes as a Dad, he would never want to see this happen and he explained everything that happened," said Cleary. 

Both the teacher involved in the incident and the assistant in the room were fired. Martin said it's because they did not follow proper safety protocols. Cleary feels that neither did the director who told her she saw the video and told her the child was saved by the teacher. A DCF report says that director is on administrative leave. 

The school president says he has cooperated with all authorities involved. The sheriff's office will not provide the surveillance video it obtained through a subpoena because the case is under an active investigation. The incident report says the state attorney's office is also involved. 

The DCF report noted that there are prior reports linked to this school, but none resulting in serious injury or death.