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BY MIA RUPANI | A Battery Park City preschool had its operating license suspended last month after a toddler in its care reportedly wandered away from teachers into oncoming traffic during a neighborhood trip.
The boy, whose age has not been released, was in the care of Preschool of America at Two South End Ave. June 17 when staff did not notice him leave the group. The city Dept. of Health, which regulates preschools, suspended the school soon after the incident was reported.
The child, according to the Battery Park City Broadsheet, stepped into traffic on South End Ave., but was rescued by Susan Bittan, who slammed on her breaks to avoid hitting him.
Bittan then parked her car and began to chase after the boy. “When I caught up with him, I scooped him into my arms,” she told the Broadsheet.
Bittan said she brought him back to school and then confronted the school’s director, Michele Demizio.
Bittan said Demizio resisted letting her speak to the boy’s mother but eventually connected them by phone.
“When I got on phone, I said, ‘I almost killed your child,’” Bittan reportedly said. “She became hysterical….I told her not to leave her child in this place.”
The two teachers responsible for the child were fired, because “there is a zero-tolerance policy for any lapses in safety,” said Enrico Demarco, the preschool chain’s attorney.
Demarco, in an email to Downtown Express, contradicted some of Bittan’s claims, but did not deny the child was in the street.
“My client disputes that the child traveled the distance (600 feet) as reported” by the Broadsheet, Demarco wrote in an email. “My client wishes to express that…had the child traveled such a distance, the child would have probably been detected by several doorman that are posted along the street near the park.”
Preschool of America has 20 facilities in the city including ones in Chinatown, the Lower East Side and Chelsea.
The Battery Park City location was still closed July 1.
“We are currently working with the program on a plan of corrective action in order to guarantee the safety of children and ensure the site has measures in place to prevent any such incident from occurring in the future,” Levi Fishman, a Health Dept. spokesperson, wrote in an email to Downtown Express.
Fishman noted that in April, a number of changes were made to the health code to strengthen safety.
“This includes…designating a staff person to be the trip coordinator and be given heightened responsibility for overall child supervision while offsite,” Fishman said.
Demarco, the attorney, said the school is currently working with the city to reopen as soon as possible so it can continue serving families in the neighborhood.
“It is important to underscore that the child was found unharmed, and my client is relieved and happy that no harm befell the child,” he said.