A North Side day-care center that made headlines last year when children accused staff members of sexual abuse will close this summer for financial reasons, Jewish Community Center officials said Friday.
The announcement came three days after national child sex-abuse experts met at the request of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and reviewed the allegations of abuse at the Rogers Park Day Care Center, 7101 N. Greenview Ave. The experts recommended that the center be closed pending further investigation, according to Gordon Johnson, DCFS director.
On Friday, Jerry Witkovsky, Jewish Community Center general director, said the experts' recommendation did not influence his decision to shut the center. "Up until today, I was unaware that these people had re-examined the case," he said.
Witkovsky said the center will close because the "changing demographics of the East Rogers Park community have decreased the demand for day care of Jewish children. "He said the center's dwindling enrollment has not been adversely affected by publicity surrounding the investigation. The facility will continue to operate as a senior citizen center, he said.
The center's teaching staff, some of whom are under investigation, will be transferred to Jewish Community Center facilities throughout Chicago and the suburbs, Witkovsky said. Children enrolled at the center will be given the option to attend other area community centers, including the Bernard Horwich Center, 3003 W. Touhy Ave.
The Rogers Park Day Care Center case was the first recorded in Illinois to involve accusations of sexual abuse by a group of adults. It consisted of 246 allegations that teachers and other staff members abused children there.
Last April the center's janitor was charged with criminal sexual abuse. His case is pending.
None of the remaining allegations have resulted in arrests.
State officials and Chicago police acknowledged that they made errors while investigating the case. Some experts say those mistakes--including a failure to thoroughly interview the children and a delay in responding to some children`s allegations of widespread abuse--made it unlikely that the year-old inquiry would determine the scope of the alleged abuse or if it occurred at all.
In an effort to improve the state`s investigatory procedures in large-scale abuse investigations, Johnson invited noted child-abuse experts to meet here earlier this week to discuss child sexual abuse and review the Rogers Park case.
The experts concluded that the allegations of widespread abuse appeared to have some foundation, Johnson said. The experts included Dr. Eli H. Newberger of Children's Hospital in Boston; Ann Wolbert Burgess, a psychiatric nurse at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Nursing; Jon Conte of the University of Chicago; and Dr. Howard Levy of Mt. Sinai Hospital.
Parents of children enrolled at the center had mixed reactions to news of the center's closing.
"I think it's a real shame," said Daniel Zifkin, father of a 5-year-old girl who has attended the center for three years. "It's a good program. I don't believe the charges about the teachers. . . . I think it's a tremendous loss for the community."
Beth Vargo, whose 6-year-old daughter allegedly was abused at the center, said, "The allegations against the teachers who were there when my child was there are very serious. Transferring those teachers to other facilities is no solution to this nightmare." Read more here .
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