Nearly half of the city’s universal pre-k centers were not properly inspected by the health department: audit

NEW YORK — Thousands of children in universal pre-kindergarten are potentially being put in danger physically by the city government that’s supposed to be helping them. That was the conclusion reached by the city comptroller, in a report released on Thursday.

However, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, or DOHMH, which is responsible for inspecting the city’s day care centers, says that the comptroller is misinterpreting the health department’s inspection information, and that all day care students, including children in pre-K, are safe. Some parents are going to have to be convinced otherwise.

“It’s amazing,” said pre-K parent Sandra Urbina, about the new report’s conclusion that DOHMH hadn’t inspected day care centers thoroughly enough. “We would think that, you know, it's a priority, but I guess it's not."

Specifically, Urbina was reacting to learning from PIX11 News about Comptroller Scott Stringer’s audit, which found that more than half of the city's universal pre-K day care centers weren't properly inspected.

“As a parent,” Stringer said at a late-morning news conference, “I want to know when I drop my kid off, I want to have certainty that facility has no open violation.”

The comptroller's audit puts the DOHMH in a bad light. The department is supposed to inspect all of the city's 1,035 pre-K day cares. However, the comptroller found, nearly half that number of pre-K day care centers, 531, did not receive at least one of the city's required follow-up inspections. The audit also found that 73 day care centers didn't get an initial inspection at all.

Of those 73 pre-K programs that had not gotten an initial inspection, Stringer concluded, 53 had prior violations, but still didn't get inspected.

“That's a violation of the Department of Health’s own protocol,” Stringer said. “We want them to make these inspections count.”

Glan Lucas, a pre-K parent in Brooklyn, echoed the comptroller’s concern. “If they are failing to inspect, the kids are going to be neglect[ed], and we parents are not going to be happy with that.”

But the health department says it cares deeply, and on Thursday it called the comptroller’s conclusions misguided, at best.

It said, in a statement from City Hall, “Every New York City pre-K site is safe. Just days before the launch of Pre-K for All in 2014, Comptroller Stringer called the program dangerous and unready. He was wrong then, and he remains wrong today. Every center gets the needed inspections and ongoing monitoring to promote the safety of children."

The department also released information that it said indicated that it had inspected 99 percent of all 2,250 day care centers citywide — not just those involved in the universal pre-K program — in 2017, the last year for which full data was available. The 2017 figures were also the ones on which the comptroller’s audit had been based. The other 1 percent of day cares, the DOHMH said, it inspected within the first few weeks of 2018.

The Health Department contends that the comptroller is misunderstanding how the inspection system works. Comptroller Stringer disagrees.

What both sides agree on at this juncture is that parents shouldn't be too worried.

“Parents can be assured that somebody is monitoring the situation,” Stringer said, “and my office is responsible to bring these issues to light, to force the Department of Health to get their act together.”

Stringer also noted that on Wednesday, Mayor Bill De Blasio formally elevated acting health commissioner Oxiris Barbot, M.D., to be the city’s new health commissioner.

Stringer said that he was convinced that he and Dr. Barbot can work together to improve the situation.

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