Former Discovery Zone parent speaks out, alleges abuse at center

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It's been just over a week since the doors at Discovery Zone Learning Center were closed for business.

Tennessee Department of Human Services suspended the daycare's license after a toddler was locked inside alone the night of December 7.

At a hearing several days later, the daycare and its attorneys tried to convince an administrative law judge to allow the center to reopen, but he upheld DHS' suspension.

Meanwhile, 3 On Your Side spoke to a mother who said she sounded the alarm months ago about Discovery Zone.

"I said something's going to happen, something's going to happen and it's going to be on the news," she told WREG.

So, after seeing the report about workers leaving a young boy inside the daycare, she said her immediate reaction was, "This news is not surprising or shocking to me at all."

The woman is a former parent at the Cordova daycare who had her own concerns about the center and said seeing the news was like reliving it all over.

"I've cried for that mother, I've cried for that baby because I know how it feels to, you know, find out that you know your child was in danger."

The mom said her son attended Discovery Zone for roughly a year, starting when he was 9 weeks old. She pulled him out this summer.

"Just being in a classroom where there were too many babies," she added.

Those same concerns are reflected in numerous violations Discovery Zone has been cited for by DHS.

The mother also said she witnessed meal and supervision violations, such as babies feeding themselves with bottles that were propped up by blankets. She said she also saw serious sleeping hazards.

"Just say some of the infants were asleep, they would have their heads covered up with blankets from head to toe, they would be covered," she said.

However, none of that compared to what this parent said a worker told her was happening to her own son.

She fought back tears, telling the story.

"To be told that your infant son was allegedly snatched up by his leg and dangled upside down," she said. "That's what I was told was happening to my son."

The allegations are outlined in a police report obtained by the On Your Side Investigators.

The mom said she contacted DHS and said DCS investigated but later closed the case since her son was no longer at the daycare.

"I feel as though my son was failed."

The mom said it's extremely concerning that attorneys for DHS then used the center's pattern of violations as evidence in petitioning with the judge to uphold the suspension.

"Oh they had this many violations, well, you didn't do anything about it beforehand!"

The mother told WREG she believes it's proof problem daycares should face tougher discipline.

"It's a slap on the wrist, they put a Band-Aid over the situation which is a violation, and you remain open, things continue and continue to happen until somebody is seriously injured."

The On Your Side Investigators tried speaking to the daycare owner, Amber Riley, numerous times, even visiting her home on more than one occasion.

WREG was able to reach Riley by phone Thursday morning. She said she wasn't directly aware of the alleged abuse incident but said she'd get back to us or have her attorney follow up.

Meanwhile, a DHS spokesperson sent WREG this statement via email: "DHS takes all complaints seriously as safety is one of our highest priorities. In regards to the specific complaint you reference, our review showed the complaint was unsubstantiated."

The daycare center remains closed under its summary suspension. It can appeal before the Child Care Licensing Review Board. The spokesperson told WREG no date has been set for the next meeting.

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