Toddlers at the Roberta Shirley Center may have been given Emergen-Zzzz, an adult nighttime sleep aid, and the lead teacher in the Tri-County Head Start Prickly Pears program has resigned in lieu of termination after an internal review.
Lisa Muntz, executive director of Tri-County Head Start, said her agency has no proof the teacher gave the children the product, which contains multivitamins and melatonin, a sleep aid.
But in a letter sent home to Prickly Pear parents, Muntz said, “We have reasonable cause to believe this may have occurred due to statements from other teachers.”
The agency notified parents in an effort “to err on the side of caution,” Muntz said.
Muntz declined to offer additional information about the suspicion, and she said any personnel issues related to the suspicions were dealt with internally based on Tri-County’s policies. She declined to offer additional information and did not provide the name of the teacher who resigned.
The letter given to parents does not state when the sleep aid may have been given to the children or the time period when they could have been given it. The letter states Tri-County Head Start became aware of the situation Feb. 7.
Muntz said Tri-County Head Start has self-reported the incident to the Child Care Licensing Agency, a division of the Colorado Office of Early Childhood, and Child Protective Services, a division of the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Rosemary Salyer of Durango said she and other parents of children in the toddlers class at the Roberta Shirley Center were given the letter informing them Tri-County Head Start has reasonable cause to believe the teacher may have given children the product containing multivitamins and melatonin.
Salyer’s son, Tatum, 2, is in the toddler class. His mother said she suspects the sleep aid was given to the children for months because her son was usually sleeping when she arrived to pick him up daily at 1:30 p.m., and the children were put down for naps at 11:15 a.m.
Tatum joined the toddler class in June 2018.
“I pick him up at 1:30 and he’s still groggy for another half hour,” she said.
Tatum, who suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an inherited disorder that affects connective tissues, and Chiari malformation, in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal, among other medical conditions, was recently diagnosed with bloody stool. Tatum said, based on her research, a bleeding stomach is one of the symptoms children might exhibit if given Emergen-Zzzz.
Salyer, who did not know the name of the teacher who resigned, said she believes her son could have been given Emergen-Zzzz as late as last week, and she said if the teacher is found to have given the toddlers the adult sleep aid, she should face legal consequences, possibly even criminal charges.
Salyer said she was told the suspected incidents happened “months ago,” but she suspects the sleep aid was given to the children until recently.
She said when she picked up Tatum, it was normal for most of the children to be sleeping despite having classmates who suffered from numerous medical conditions.
“Why would you give it one or two times months ago, and then stop and don’t do it again for months?” she said.
The Roberta Shirley Center offers early childhood care for low-income families who qualify for the federally subsidized program. The center is located at 2019 East Third Ave.
The letter given to parents said Tri-County’s nurse consultant, Allie Enoch, researched possible effects of Emergen-Zzzz on children.
The letter said “consuming vitamins within normal guidelines should pose no risk in otherwise healthy children.” The letter also states, “There is a wide margin of safety for both vitamins and melatonin. However, children who take multivitamins and other supplements and who eat fortified foods and beverages might consume nutrients at levels exceeding the upper limit, increasing the possibility of adverse effects (National Institutes of Health, 2015).”
The letter also directs parents with any concerns about their children to contact the Poison Control Center.
Parents were provided with the labels for two Emergen-Zzzz products with a list of ingredients.
Parents were also informed that the nurse consultant, Enoch, would be available if they had questions.