A lawsuit filed this week alleges a Northwest Side daycare and preschool that is under investigation by the Department of Children and Family Services abused and neglected children in its care.
The suit, filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court by the mother of one of the children, claims an employee of Children’s Land, 6618 W. Belmont Ave., abused her son and other 3-year-old children in his class.
DCFS spokeswoman Alissandra Calderon confirmed the agency is investigating allegations of abuse and neglect at Children’s Land, but did not provide additional information.
The suit seeks unspecified damages from Children’s Land, its founder, Oxana Anisimov, and Svitlana Dovhopiata; it accuses Dovhopiata of being the employee seen striking children and dragging a child in a video recording of the classroom.
Dovhopiata, 29, of Chicago, faces two misdemeanor counts of battery in connection with the Aug. 30 incident, according to Chicago Police. Her next court date was scheduled for Nov. 1.
According to the suit, the mother first dropped off her son at Children’s Land on Aug. 23 and he was assigned to Dovhopiata’s classroom. Five days later, she noticed marks on his hip “resembling adult fingers” and he pleaded with her not to make him go back.
On Aug. 30, the mother picked up her son and he told her he was sent to “time out,” even though she had been told Children’s Land does not use time outs or corporal punishment at its location. She began to have concerns about how the children were being disciplined and wondered about her son’s bruise.
When the mother spoke with the class teacher, Dovhopiata, she told the mother that the previous day had been stressful because she had “18 kids to herself,” according to the suit. State law requires the teacher-to-student ratio be no more than 10 3-year-old children per adult.
The mother asked to see the video recording of the classroom and watched it with the location’s director, the suit says. In the video, Dovhopiata “clearly struck another boy hard three times.” When the mother asked how that could be allowed, the director told her the boy had “psychological issues” and, according to the suit, said that hitting him was the only way to calm him down.
The video also allegedly showed Dovhopiata strike another child and “violently rock” her own son on his cot. Then, angry that he would not sleep, she dragged him by the wrist to the bathroom, then back again to his cot, the suit says.
Reached Friday by phone, Children’s Land owner George Tychalski called the events in the video “an isolated incident.”
“Parents know what kind of kid it was, [and Dovhopiata] spanked him a few times to get him to go to sleep,” Tychalski said.
Tychalski said DCFS recommended Dovhopiata be removed from the classroom during their investigation, but that she quit soon after. He said he expected the charges against her to be dismissed.
Asked if he planned to rehire her, Tychalski said he wouldn’t, though also said Dovhopiata was one of the daycare’s best teachers.
Tychalski said he personally installed three cameras in each classroom at the facility so that the activities could be monitored. He said Children’s Land offered parents an affordable child-care option in a “working-class neighborhood.”
“It’s not as bad as presented in the claim.” Tychalski said in response to the suit. “I believe [the plaintiff] is trying to squeeze us for money.”
The lawsuit alleges that the abuse was not an isolated incident. It also claims:
- A 3-year-old boy was withdrawn from Dovhopiata’s classroom after a single day when his face was covered in unexplained scratches and he had been left in urine-soaked clothes.
- A girl was withdrawn by her parents from a Children’s Land location in northwest suburban Wheeling and they filed a complaint with DCFS after she had a bruise on her neck in the shape of an adult hand. The mother of the girl also reported see a child violently shook by a teacher after the boy urinated in his pants, a girl left lying in vomit and a child left unattended wandering through the facility’s kitchen.
- A family settled for $50,000 when their infant daughter suffered vaginal lacerations at a Children’s Land facility in Glenview.
The suit brought Thursday accuses Children’s Land of battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and negligent supervision and retention.