Baltimore day care remains closed following death of 8-month-old

Following the death of an infant in May, the Rocket Tiers Learning Center in Baltimore remains under emergency suspension as the Maryland State Department of Education investigates whether the facility is safe for children.

The center had appealed the suspension, but it was recently upheld after Administrative Law Judge David Hofstetter determined that further investigation was necessary to “ensure the health, safety, or welfare of children in the Center,” according to appeal documents from the Department of Education obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

Rocket Tiers, located at High and Baltimore streets east of downtown in the Jonestown neighborhood, was ordered closed after a caretaker was accused of fatally assaulting 8-month-old Reese Bowman during nap time on May 23. A surveillance video showed 23-year-old Leah Walden “violently snatching the child out of the crib with one arm, swinging at the baby as if she was slapping her, and placing pillows over the baby’s face,” Baltimore police Criminal Investigations Chief Stanley Brandford said.

Walden was charged with first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, second-degree child abuse and two counts of first-degree child abuse. Her trial is scheduled for Oct. 30. Attempts to reach her attorney were unsuccessful.

Rocket Tiers was shut down shortly afterward and placed under emergency suspension by the state Department of Education’s Office of Child Care.

On June 27, Rocket Tiers director Terri Dawson requested a hearing to appeal the suspension.

The Office of Child Care argued that the emergency suspension should be upheld for a number of reasons. It said Walden and at least one other Rocket Tiers caretaker had not completed required training that would have granted them the necessary credentials to be alone with infants, according to the documents. Still, Dawson permitted Walden and another caretaker to be alone in the infant room without supervision, according to the documents. Dawson did not dispute this claim. The Office of Child Care asserted that this may have played a role in Reese’s death and that it needed to interview other facility members about staff practices, according to the documents.

The office also said in the documents that it had yet to conduct a physical examination of the Rocket Tiers building and that it was still waiting to receive documents regarding certain employees’ educational qualifications, criminal background checks and other matters “of obvious and critical importance to the question of future safe operation of Rocket Tiers.”

Hofstetter upheld the suspension, granting the Office of Child Care more time to continue their investigation, according to the documents.

Department of Education spokesman William Reinhard said the department has the authority to keep the suspension in place for up to one year.

Charles Curlett, Jr., Dawson’s attorney, said Rocket Tiers will continue to work with authorities in hopes of reopening.

“Ms. Dawson cares deeply about the Rocket Tiers Learning Center and the children who attend,” Curlett said. “She looks forward to reopening at the appropriate time with the approval of the Department of Education.”

mbricesaddler@baltsun.com

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