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St. Louis daycare ‘fight club’ caught on camera

ST. LOUIS - Teachers at Adventure Learning Center on Gravois organized a one-day fight club for preschoolers in December 2016. The lead teacher organized it after the heater broke in an attempt to entertain the kids.

State regulators increased inspections after the incident. Follow up visits found other types of violations.

A 10-year-old captured video of the fighting with his iPad. He was with older kids in the next room. He was worried about his little brother who was crying after three fights.

In the video, you can see one teacher who appears excited as she’s jumping up and down. You can see another teacher putting hulk fists on preschoolers.

Mother Nicole Merseal cannot watch without crying. She told us, “He doesn`t understand why his friends were fighting him -- why he was beaten up by his best friends. And it was on his 4th birthday.”

The iPad video shows a fight in which the kids fall to the ground while a teacher kicks into the air in excitement. The only person who tries breaking it up is another preschooler, but he cannot stop one child from pounding the other`s head into the floor. Merseal believes it only stopped because her older son texted her video. She called the director to stop it. She said her older son texted the video saying… “The daycare was making them fight, not helping them.”

Daycare cameras recorded at least 30 minutes, fight after fight - video Merseal says can be monitored by staff.

Though it happened nearly two years ago, Merseal doesn`t think enough was done. She said, “I want them to be held accountable and I don`t want this to happen to any other child.”

The police report says the director immediately fired both teachers and called the child abuse hotline. The St. Louis Circuit Attorney`s Office declined to prosecute.

I reached out to both teachers. They had no comment.

Though state regulators substantiated the complaint, Adventure Learning Center Gravois continued operating normally, but with increased inspections. Eight visits since, document 26 wide-ranging violations - though none exactly like the fight club incident.

In March 2018, 'a 4-year-old child' said a teacher 'cussed at him, flicked him, grabbed him and pushed him to the ground.'

Also, in March - an 'agency staff member observed a caregiver...grab a child approximately 3- years-old by the arm and drag/carry the child.' the report adds that the '(director) was standing in this classroom and did not respond...'

Merseal wonders about training. She pointed to how a teacher noticed her son crying that December day in 2016. She said, “In the video, he`s wiping his face over and over again. The daycare worker - you see her walk over to him and tell him, you know - you`re fine and you know - pat him on the back and then walk and start another fight with other kids.”

She says now she struggles making her son realize fighting at daycare is not widely accepted. Merseal said, “When we chose a new daycare for him and he started going he asked me in the car if they were going to make him fight.”

No one from Adventure Learning Center Gravois would comment.

The St Louis Circuit Attorney's Office provided the following statement about declining to prosecute the teachers, "There was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any laws were violated. However, that does not diminish the incredibly poor judgment by these adults who had the responsibility to safely supervise these children."

You can check out your childcare facilities inspection history by visiting the MO DHSS search portal here.

You can not only check child care centers but also group homes. Just type the name of the facility and hit “search.”