MANHATTAN BEACH — State authorities have refused to rescind an order that closed the Children's Path preschool here three weeks ago because of alleged child sexual abuse.
But a proposal to transfer the school's license from the current operator to another individual could lead to reopening of the school, according to officials.
John Hagarty, community care licensing director of the state Social Services Department, said Thursday that he would not lift a March 6 order temporarily revoking the school's license, despite strong demands from parents, who contend that the one allegation of child abuse lodged against Children's Path is insufficient reason for closing a school that served 70 children.
Hagarty said the facility would be allowed to reopen only if the license, held by Jill B. Schwartz, were transferred to someone else.
Kathleen Norris, a department spokeswoman, said Schwartz has proposed that the license be transferred to a specific person, who was not identified, and the matter is under consideration.
"Given the parents' enthusiasm, and their feelings in the matter, if it were found this could be done, it would be expedited," she said.
Children's Path of Manhattan Beach and Children's Path of Hermosa Beach, which Schwartz also owns, were ordered closed on the same day as the Manhattan Beach facility. The action was based on allegations that seven children--six at the Hermosa Beach school and one at Manhattan Beach--had been molested during a 2 1/2-year period. Schwartz had voluntarily shut down the Hermosa Beach school last October because of a police investigation of child abuse.
Several Manhattan Beach parents charged that their school was unfairly linked to the Hermosa Beach school because of the joint ownership. They claimed that Hermosa Beach parents pressured the state to close both schools.
"In closing Hermosa Beach, they closed down a model school in Manhattan Beach," said Lyle Schlyer, a member of the parent support group.
Linked by Licenses
Norris said there is a link between the two schools because of the licensing. "The same person (Schwartz) is responsible for both facilities," she said. "There is a general lack of proper maintenance and care, and allegations of gross neglect on the part of one facility are difficult to separate from the other."
The department said a 5-year-old at the Manhattan Beach school claims to have been fondled in the breast and genital areas. Allegations involving children at the Hermosa Beach school include sodomy, oral copulation, rape by instrument and the transportation of some children to the homes of staff members, authorities said. No criminal charges have been filed but investigations are continuing.
John Stubbs, Schwartz's attorney and the parent of a child at the Manhattan Beach school, said that the two schools should be looked at separately.
"Jill managed the Manhattan Beach school," he said. "She owned the other one, but did not manage it. There is a different standard of conduct."
Stubbs added, "We are not for a minute admitting that anything happened at Hermosa Beach." Schwartz has refused to comment on the molestation allegations at either school.
The department denied Schwartz's request for separate appeal hearings on the license revocations at each school. No hearing date has been set. License revocations become permanent if they are not appealed, or if the appeals are denied after hearings.
Stubbs said earlier that Schwartz does not plan to reopen the Hermosa Beach school.
Hagarty met privately on March 13 with more than 80 Manhattan Beach parents, who demanded the Children's Path be reopened and pledged to play a key role in monitoring activities at the school.
"We are confident we have protected our children," said parent Bonnie Brey after the meeting. She said that parents formed a "validation committee" last November, and at least one parent from the committee is at the school at all times.