Mr. Glad (we’ll call him) came to Pennsylvania as a young engineer. He rose fast, made a pile and went into the private-investments business, where he made piles more, linking sophisticated technologies, markets, investors.
He is a champion dealmaker. His mind is creatively, relentlessly analytical. His gifts and his tools have served him well and prepared him for many challenging professional situations.
But who is ready for parenthood?
Mr. Glad married an accomplished professional from back home. They had kids at a mature age, and, since they planned to continue their demanding careers, started shopping for one of those college-priced preschools that have proliferated in wealthy neighborhoods -- at $15,000 to $40,000 per kid per year -- more than my kids’ colleges cost them, us and the lenders.
“I did a lot of research. The patterns were familiar to me from private equity" -- the marketing staff, the industry credentials, the noted attention to compliance requirements, the fine amenities, careful surveillance system, advanced educational processes. Checking deeper, he reviewed their financial arrangements -- private-equity, for-profit, nonprofit, backed by charities or Silicon Valley people. Seeking direct feedback, he extracted testimonials from parents in his networks.
The Glads settled on a school with a fine reputation. Their children thrived for some time, as children tend to, wherever we stick them.
Life has its bruises. Mr. Glad says his three-year-old, whom we’ll call Smiley, came home Nov. 9 with “a golfball-size lump on the head." The Glads, a medically-minded family, knew how to treat it. It bothered him a bit that nobody at school could say what happened. “But I had bought the whole package,” and rationalized, he said.
Early Dec. 17, Mr. Glad says he and his wife were called by the school with a more alarming report: Smiley was lying still on the floor, bleeding. They drove him to CHOP, which diagnosed “concussion, traumatic head and nose injury." He says staff speculated the child may have collided with a bookshelf.
The Glads were frustrated not to know more. “But I trusted the process, as you say in Philadelphia,” he told me.
And then what he calls “the catastrophe”: Early on Jan. 14, the school executive summoned the Glads, because Smiley was vomiting -- and only later called, with a teacher on the line, to say the child had been out of their sight for a little while, before being found by a junior staffer, alone, on the floor, throwing up.
Mr. Glad reacted as some other successful, scared dads might: He blew his top. He demanded to know why he wasn’t told this at once, so he could take his kid to check for signs of abuse, or other trauma, instead of bathing the child (whom, he said, had no temperature) and dumping the clothes in the laundry. He asked about the surveillance cameras, and was told there were no images. In days ahead, his anger escalated, and so did his due diligence: to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, to the police, demanding in-depth investigation. He met pushback with accusations. There’s a long email trail.
And on Jan. 20 he sent a six-page closely-written letter to all the parents of his child’s grade, detailing what had happened a few days before. Their child, he concluded, was “put in harms way at a minimum, potentially a victim of a life altering accident (e.g. sex abuse etc.)” due to “gross negligence."
He urged the school to find governing-board members with relevant skills, bring in outside safety experts to review incidents, hold staff and management personally responsible, and give them incentives for acting safely. He apologized for his “less than ideal letter,” citing “distress, sleepless nights,” the pressure of work and his frustration at the school’s failure “with these preventable and easy-fix issues.”
The school answered that day with a counter-letter. It called the Glad complaint “my number one priority.” It gave a less alarming version of that week’s incident: A substitute teacher had been bringing up the rear of the line of students when one disappeared; the student was “unaccounted” for up to a minute.
The school exec promised “swift and decisive” reforms: A trained teacher will now man the end of every line. Staff “will monitor each of their assigned students closely;” The school will plant door props so teachers aren’t distracted holding them open; New security camera systems will add “higher resolution" and wider coverage.
And the school executive announced the Glads were expelled: “Unfortunately, the student’s parents made it clear that a respectful and constructive partnership would not be possible, and their enrollment was terminated.”
State and police investigators talked to school leaders, then told Mr. Glad (in emails he shared) that, with no evidence of a crime and no one accused, they had no action to take. He accused them of failing to interview aides and others.
Mr. Glad said his kids aren’t the only ones to leave abruptly. I asked if that dented the school’s enrollment, and budget. No, he said, there’s a waiting list.
Which the school executive confirmed, when I called to get their side of the story, and ask why those reforms hadn’t been in place before little Smiley went missing. The school executive demurred -- privacy issues -- but assured me children’s safety is everyone’s highest priority. And that a tummy bug had been going around.
Nobody visiting Pennsylvania’s early-childhood education licensing reports would know Mr. Glad has complained. The school doesn’t try to get extra “Keystone STARs” in the state’s rating system; the school executive said they are evaluated by appropriate private childcare groups. The state in its brief report gives the school a clean record; the DHS spokeswoman told me complaints are confidential, and only noted on the record when they are investigated and can be proven.
So Mr. Glad is left with his guilt. his second-guessing and some hard lessons. He says his priority now is that Smiley, in his new school, remember nothing of what happened, so I’m not naming the family. Since there are no on-the-record complaints, I’m not naming the school.