CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) – Preschool pictures from the Child Development Center at Calvary Church on Pineville-Matthews Road show Sophia Kelleher is cute as a button.
Her mom, Serena, says Sophia has done well in school and camps, but Kelleher says Sophia’s experience at Calvary’s preschool left a negative long-term effect.
Kelleher says her daughter was singled out for behavior and constantly feared her teacher.”Very clear to us that her little ego relied on what this teacher would say about her every day,” said Kelleher.
She says Sophia’s teacher sent home negative notes and told them wrongly that their daughter must have Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder (ADHD). She says this was done with the support of director, Pat Collins.
The Kellehers say Sophia’s doctor told them that girl had the behavior of a regular five-year-old. Yet the problems persisted.
“Some days she would just come out of school crying, knowing there was a note in her folder that she didn’t have a good day,” said Kelleher. The negativity, she says, affected their family as the school issues carried over into the home. Sophia now gets counseling.
She’s one of five children whose parents claim Calvary expelled them because of real or perceived disabilities, from diabetes to developmental delays.
Each family shares a similar story. Their child was enrolled at the preschool, the parents say they tried to work with the preschool teachers and director through the issue, and were ultimately told to leave or felt forced out.
Attorney Joshua Van Kampen says the screening out kids is illegal under state and federal protections which require reasonable accommodations be made for children with disabilities.
The lawsuit alleges a pattern of screening out children going back more than 20 years.
“We certainly didn’t anticipate finding out that that there would be instances of similar sort of conduct going back that far,” said Van Kampen.
Calvary hasn’t responded to WBTV with a statement at this time about the growing allegations, but Van Kampen says the church wants the lawsuit dismissed.
Kelleher wants the director and church held accountable, for her daughter and other children.
“She just tries so hard to be perfect,” said Kelleher. “She’s having a hard time understanding that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved,” she said.
Two months ago, Calvary released this statement when the lawsuit was first filed with two families making claims against the church and preschool director:
Calvary Church and Calvary Child Development Center (“Calvary”) has learned that a lawsuit was recently filed against it and one of its employees in Mecklenburg County,” the statement read. “At this time, neither Calvary nor its attorney has been provided with a copy of the complaint that was filed with the court, and as such, is not in a position at this time to respond to or comment on any allegations that may be contained in the lawsuit.
The statement came from Calvary attorney Mel Garofalo.
Calvary has a strong reputation in Charlotte regarding its preschool and child development center. More than 800 children are enrolled. The director, Pat Collins, has led the CDC more than 30 years.