A group of Brooklyn parents and workers are in the lurch after a day care owner’s death caused the shut down of the business, left staffers out of a job, parents out tuition fees, and children without a day care facility.
Workers and families at Ilene’s Sunflower day care, which operated two locations in Windsor Terrace, at 311 Greenwood Avenue and 1268 Prospect Avenue, were alerted Friday, January 20, that the day care no longer had funds to pay the staffers and would close immediately. The next day, owner Ilene Lieberman died of cancer.
Her death rendered the daycare’s license invalid in the eyes of the Department of Health. Parents and staffers were not aware of the severity of Lieberman’s condition, according to parent Adam Varga.
“A few months ago, my wife and I ran into her. We knew she was ill, but we didn’t know the severity. It’s an unfortunate situation for everyone involved,” Varga told Brownstoner.
Parents were told via emails and text messages from staffers, but did not receive an official notice from the business.
“We always felt the staff and caretakers were good, and even though Ilene was a little disorganized, she was a sweet, caring woman. Last week, the caretakers told us Sunflower was out of money to pay employees and would be shutting down,” said Varga.
Varga added that the owner’s son, Jonah Kaminer, had been trying to sell the business in the weeks leading up to Sunflower’s closure. He also added that staffers had not been paid in nearly three weeks. Parents say workers are owed nearly $14,000, and families say they are owed money for services not rendered (e.g. tuition through the spring) to the collective tune of $94,000.
The New York City Department of Health extended the license for one week, until Friday, January 27. At least 30 families and 10 staffers are affected by Sunflower’s closure. Some parents have stayed home with their kids, some are doing nanny shares, and some parents have been paying the care providers directly and using the Sunflower facilities. But that will end Friday, and parents will have to find new options, which can be difficult on short notice.
“It just seems crazy that the Department of Health wants to shut down this day care facility with only a week’s notice, with the only given reason being the unfortunate passing of the owner,” said parent Scott MacMillan on a website the parents set up called Save Sunflower. “We had to be on a waiting list for six months to secure a spot here. Other nearby providers have similarly long wait lists. I would hope that the Department of Health would work with us, the parents and providers, to ensure continued safe care for our children, rather than leaving working parents with no recourse. We’re working parents without immediate family in the New York area, so as of now we’re not sure what we’re going to do,” he said.
Another parent called upon Mayor De Blasio to do something in a tweet:
— Allyson Bone (@allyson_bone) January 23, 2017
“I feel that the most important thing in this situation is for Department of Health to extend the license — the more time the caretakers have to reorganize and parents have to find alternatives for their children, the better,” said Varga.
The Department of Labor had previously filed suit and won a judgement against the daycare for failing to pay employees overtime and subsequently faking the payment of back wages owed. The judgement requires Sunflower to give the Department of Labor seven days notice before terminating or laying off employees.
So far, Kaminer has not responded to requests for comment.
The staff has been meeting with attorneys about reclaiming lost wages and organizing a worker-owned childcare co-op. Late Tuesday, the parents put up a GoFundMe page to recover lost wages for the staff.
“I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going to happen after Friday,” said Varga.
- New Day Care in Store for Clinton Hill Corner?
- Preschool, Daycare, Opening Near McCarren Park
- Daycare Coming to 4th Avenue