The Montessori Science Academy’s day care center has been placed on a list of illegally operated day care centers. The owner says he misunderstood the license requirements and is now working to correct the situation. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

NEW PALESTINE – The owner of the Montessori Science Academy illegally operated a daycare center and was ordered to close it because state officials said it was not properly licensed.

The Academy, 4197 S. County Road 600W, appears on a state list of day care workers who have received at least one cease and desist from illegal operations.

The order applies to the Academy’s day-care centers and not to the school, which is an independent unit.

After a complaint was received that the Montessori Science Academy’s daycare center may be operating illegally, officials from the State Administration of Family and Social Services dispatched a team to investigate Jan. 6. Upon arrival, the inspectors observed 25 children between the ages of 3 and 6 years present in a preschool room. They also found 11 additional children, ages 4 months to 2 years old, “hiding in a closet with three employees,” said Marni Lemons, FSSA deputy communications director.

“According to our licensing consultants who conducted the investigation, they were hiding in an actual closet,” said Lemons.

Since the state had not granted the company a license to operate as a daycare center, this part of the business was closed. It happened on January 6th. The FSSA sent the injunction on February 3rd.

“Our investigation found that the Montessori Science Academy was paid to look after children in a non-residential building with no parents present for more than four hours without a license,” Lemons said, referring to the state daycare facility law.

Brian Wheatley, the owner of the Montessori Science Academy, said the licensing problem was a misunderstanding resulting from the school’s move and he was working with FSSA officials to resolve it. In an email to the Daily Reporter, he said he would “not respond to any rumors” that children were hiding. He forwarded a report from the inspectors who visited the academy on January 6th, which characterized the room where the younger children were found as the “room”.

Wheatley moved the academy to a new location in New Palestine last year to provide a better environment for the children studying a science-intensive curriculum at the school, he said. Wheatley said they have 12 kids in daycare and 50 in school this year.

The Montessori Science Academy was regulated by the FSSA as the Department of Childcare from October 2015 to March 2020 when the academy was located at 5684 West US 52, New Palestine. Wheatley said he believed when they moved to their larger room near the corner of US 52 and 600W County Road, he could easily update the new address when he renewed their application next month.

However, the process required the childcare department to close and the operation to be reapplied from the start to acquire a license, Wheatley said.

“We’re imperfect people and we’ve made mistakes,” said Wheatley. “I’ve never relocated a registered ministry of childcare and learned from my mistakes.”

While the daycare is closed, the school is still operating and separate from the registered ministry.

“The non-compliance is not the result of problems with staff, children or safety, it is simply an oversight on my part that makes me feel terrible for those involved,” he said.

Wheatley added, “We immediately followed their instructions and have been compliant now and since January 6th. It was very difficult for the families as there are very few childcare options. “

The company is waiting for the final inspection by FSSA officials. He hopes to be able to reopen the daycare after the visit is over.

“All I can say is that we comply with the FSSA and don’t want anything to delay the final inspection,” Wheatley said. “You have a process for us to open again and we’re near the end.”

According to Lemons, the state’s procedure should be followed up within 30 days to determine whether the operator has complied with regulations.

To become a licensed childcare center, business owners must complete two rounds of online orientation through the Indiana Licensing and Education Access Depot. You must also apply and pass an on-site inspection by the Office of Early Childhood and After-School Education, according to the FSSA website.