State regulators in California investigated a preschool in San Diego and privately interviewed children as young as 2 about their masking practices without their parents’ consent, KTVU news report.
After receiving a complaint that Aspen Leaf Preschool did not enforce the state’s mask mandate, California Department of Social Services (CDSS) officials visited three locations in January, according to the CDSS’ response to a complaint by Howard Wu, the preschool’s owner.
During the investigation, CDSS officials assigned to the Community Care Licensing Division detained children and separated them from their teachers. They interviewed the children anonymously regarding their masking practices, as documented in the CDSS letter shared by Wu with Fox News Digital.
In the complaint Wu filed, the investigation was described as a “simultaneous, multi-school raid” that resulted in “unnecessary and inappropriate child interviews.”
“Every family we heard from after the inspections were furious about the interviews,” Wu said to Fox News Digital.
“We were open the whole pandemic about not masking children and the reasons why. The policy was on our website. Put simply, the mask guidance says children can NOT mask when eating and sleeping. In full-day child care that’s 3 hours, so masking at other times offers no health benefit. All the families (except 1 in January) supported the policy.”
Additionally, Wu maintains that CDSS lacks the authority to enforce a mask mandate imposed by another agency, in this case, the California Department of Public Health.
“We believe in good faith that the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction to enforce another agency’s mask guidance,” he explained.
“They could have issued us a citation in 5 minutes and let us take our challenge up through the proper channels. The simultaneous multi-school raids and the child interviews just felt like a power play.”
CDSS responded to Wu by claiming that it is able to “enter and inspect a licensed child care facility at any time, with or without advance notice, to secure compliance with, or prevent a violation” of state laws, as well as “interview children without prior consent and, when necessary, conduct the interviews in private.”
“Based on their personal observations and interviews of the facility directors, staff and children, CCLD staff determined that the licensee failed to ensure that staff and children used face coverings as required by the State Public Health Officer Order of June 11, 2021, thus violating the children’s personal right to safe and healthful accommodations,” the letter said.
Agency officials have issued Aspen Leaf a Type A citation, which indicates a serious violation, Voice of San Diego reported.
According to Aspen Leaf, it is appealing the citation, and has updated its COVID-19 policy to require masks for all children over 2 until March 11, when the state’s mandate ends.
A number of parents have expressed outrage over the investigation conducted by CPSS in Wu’s complaint.
“I do not feel this interview served my child’s safety or well-being,” a parent wrote, “and I believe it may have given a harmful impression about her obligations to speak with strange adults in private without known caretakers present.”
“I understand that while the licensing agency is authorized to conduct private interviews with the children – this authority was put in place and intended for use when there is a situation of possible abuse, which is ENTIRELY absent from this situation,” another parent wrote.
“Therefore, this agency has blatantly overstepped their authority.”
“Frustrated. Angry. Aghast. Confused,” another parent wrote.
“These are only a few of the words that describe what we felt as parents of a 3.5 year old who was questioned by government officials at his preschool regarding mask-wear indoors.”
Apparently, Wu thinks he has been unfairly targeted by the CDSS due to his challenge to its authority.
“After it all happened I actually pulled every licensing report issued in California during the pandemic to get the data to show we were treated more harshly than any other center,” he said on Fox News Digital.
Wu published the data on a website stating, “California has a child care crisis,” and “the child care licensing agency is making things worse.”
Fox News Digital contacted the CCLD and received a written response to parents who complained.
“We want to ensure you that CCLD takes seriously its responsibility of ensuring the health and safety of children in licensed child care facilities,” stated CCLD deputy director Kevin Gaines in a letter dated March 1.
“It is for this reason that CCLD spoke with your child.”
“CCLD has confirmed that conversations with children during the complaint investigation were conducted with Aspen Leaf staff present or within line of sight of Aspen Leaf staff,” the letter stated. “CCLD has determined that the interviews were conducted in an appropriate manner and were a necessary component of the required complaint investigation.”
“A licensing evaluator is respectful of a child’s choice to answer questions,” it added. “If at any point during an interview a child expresses or exhibits apprehension or discomfort, the interview is discontinued.”