TAYLOR MILL, Ky. -- Katie Applegate's parents might not have ever known what really happened to her if not for a little boy in Edgewood.
Katie's father got a phone call last fall when she was enrolled at Rainbow Child Care in Taylor Mill. David Applegate said the director told him an employee had been rough with Katie, but that it was nothing to worry about.
“By Rainbow, we were told this was nothing major," he said. "This was normal procedure.
“Then we got a call from the social worker that was a follow-up, and she said that it was much worse than what we had originally been told.”
Video showed there were two teachers in the room at the time, Applegate said: One picked her up, dropped her on her face and threw a blanket over her head.
While his daughter was lying down, Applegate said, a teacher put their legs across her body while looking off in another direction, doing paperwork and having a drink.
“It was horrifying. It was terrible," he said. "I never wanted to see anything bad happen to my kids.”
State inspectors checked Katie's day care -- and found the video footage -- after a separate case a month earlier.
What they found was so serious that six Rainbow locations face "intermediate sanctions" -- a move Susan Hayes, Division of Regulated Child Care director, described last week to the I-Team as a last-ditch effort to get them in compliance.
"We have identified some concerning things," Hayes said, "and it is the step we take before we suspend a license or revoke in most circumstances."
How the investigation started
Like the Applegates, a little boy's family said they got a call from Rainbow Child Care, too. According to court records, the Edgewood location's director told them an employee had covered their son's head with a blanket "in an attempt to get him to nap."
They reported it to police.
According to a criminal complaint, video footage showed the employee, Anne Marie Ogonek, pushing children under her care, yanking their limbs and forcing them to lay down with their heads covered with a blanket. The judge entered a "not guilty" plea for Ogonek during a hearing Feb. 1.
"Who knows how long this had been going on?" Applegate said. "Who knows how long they had been doing this?"
Health and Family Services, which licenses and inspects day care centers, opened an investigation into all Northern Kentucky Rainbow locations after the company reported the criminal case late last year.
Over the course of two weeks, inspectors went unannounced to the 13 facilities. The surprise visits aren't uncommon; it's how the state usually checks out licensed day care operators.
But going to all Rainbow's facilities in such a short period of time isn't normal. Doug Hogan, Health and Family Services spokesman, said the coordinated move was necessary so nobody at Rainbow could tip off the other locations.
“We wanted to make sure that this was not a systemic issue, that this was not something that was going on in training, or within the culture of the employees and the staff at the multiple locations," Hogan said.
License nearly revoked, but center never closed
Kentucky has 36 inspectors checking nearly 2,000 licensed childcare providers in the state. The I-Team reviewed reports from every unannounced inspection conducted at Rainbow Child Care Centers in Northern Kentucky over the past year.
One report shows medical staff told investigators there's a "high likelihood" a staff member broke a 2-year-old's wrist on Oct. 7 by "forcefully" dragging her onto a cot at the Erlanger location on Dixie Highway.
On Nov. 4, at the Crescent Springs location on Buttermilk Pike, inspectors found an employee working alone with young children even though that person is under state investigation -- something that's not allowed.
And at Rainbow's location on Burlington Pike in Florence, inspectors said video shows an employee "pushing an infant face down onto a Boppy pillow" on Oct. 24.
Out of Rainbow's 13 locations, just two -- Alexandria and Hebron -- had no violations.
The six listed on the Division of Regulated Childcare website as currently under sanctions from the state (click for inspection reports):
After investigating Ogonek's case, the state notified Rainbow they were revoking the Edgewood location's license Oct 20. Rainbow had 20 days to appeal once it received the letter.
Rainbow appealed Nov. 3 and had a conference with Kentucky officials Nov. 14. The state sent the company its final decision to not revoke the license Nov. 23.
Shutting down a center isn't necessarily an easy choice, Hogan said, because there might be hundreds of families affected.
Records show the state later placed the Edgewood location into "intermediate sanctions," on Dec. 2. And a letter dated Feb. 2 shows the state has issued Rainbow a $1,450 fine.
Child care centers under sanction aren't required to notify or disclose that information to parents, unless the penalty is a suspension or revocation of their license. Facilities can continue to operate during the appeal process.
Sanctions can last as little as three months or as long as the state feels they're needed. Usually, it involves additional employee training from a Kentucky credentialed trainer. The state will also inspect more frequently, typically on a monthly or bi-monthly basis depending on how severe the violations are.
Sanctions by location:
"The evidence is out there now," Hayes said. "The training is being looked at and assessed by the state. If there’s lapses in training or things that need to be changed, then we will make those changes along with the provider."
Inspectors returned to three of the locations in January -- Crescent Springs and both in Florence. They didn't find any problems.
Video cameras aren't required in Kentucky day care centers, and reviewing footage isn't typically part of the inspection process. Hayes said that practice might change.
State officials have met with Rainbow's corporate leadership, Hogan said. No one from the company would speak with the I-Team, but the company released this statement:
"Ensuring our schools are the safest environment possible for children is always Rainbow’s top priority. It is our mission to maintain the highest level of standards for safety and security, while continuing to maintain an environment that is welcoming and familiar to students and parents. For this reason, Rainbow has developed a Quality-Improvement Plan featuring additional staff training that includes, but is not limited to, supervision and positive child guidance. Additionally, our staff receives appropriate-behavior modeling and hands on instructional support."
The little boy from Edgewood doesn't go to Rainbow anymore.
Neither does Katie Applegate.
Her dad said he isn’t sure Rainbow is doing what's needed to keep kids safe.
And he said he wanted to warn other parents to do their homework about caregivers.
"What I would expect when we send a kid to day care is that they ... treat our kids the way they treat their own kids," Applegate said.
On Wednesday, the regional manager for Rainbow Child Care Centers in Northern Kentucky sent a letter to parents informing them that three of those facilities are now in compliance and no longer under sanctions. The letter says the other three daycare centers could be off sanctions within a few weeks.
The I-Team checked the records on the state website again Wednesday evening. It still identified six Rainbow Child Care Centers in Northern Kentucky as being under current intermediate sanctions.
This is a developing story.
What you can do
Ask a child care center if you can stop in unannounced. According to Kentucky officials, it's a red flag if they say "No."
Research day care centers online: