November 2, 2018
File this under what could very well be a parent's worst nightmare: Two years ago, daycare workers turned their classroom at the Adventure Learning Center in St. Louis, Missouri into a toddler fight club, pitting one child against the other in boxing matches, complete with foam Hulk gloves. Now, footage of the horrific episode is making national headlines, alongside news that a mother named Nicole Merseal is reportedly suing the daycare for more than $25,000.
According to CBS, Merseal's two sons were in attendance that day in 2016. Her older son, who was 10 at the time, filmed the fight with his iPad and expressed concern that his little brother, who was 4, was getting beat up by his classmates.
And heartbreakingly, the little boy's fears were on-point, according to a lawsuit filed in December 2016, which states that Merseal's then-4-year-old son was encouraged to fight another child by teachers Mickala Guliford and Tena Dailey. In the documents, Merseal accuses the daycare center of directing a "fight club" and permitting another child "to intimidate and harm" her son.
"My son was very afraid," Merseal, who say she was "in complete shock" upon seeing video of the incident, told ABC News. "He didn't understand why his best friends beat him up. These are children that he's been around for a couple years. He described them as his best friends. He just doesn't understand why they punched him in the face. ... I don't know any parent that could watch their children go through this and not be upset."
ABC News reports that in documents released by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Jennifer Scott, the director of the center, said that Guliford had told her that the children “were bored" and that "we ran out of things to do." According to the state documents, Guliford said she "meant for the fighting with the Hulk Hands to be a stress release exercise." Scott said that following the incident, she sent Guliford and Dailey home, called the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, completed an incident report, and then she fired the two women.
In the aftermath of the disturbing incident, charges were not brought against the two teachers, and the Adventure Learning Center reportedly remained up and running. And in what Merseal described as a "slap on the wrist," staff and volunteers were required to get an hour of training on “developmentally-appropriate activities.” The center was also required to review policies, rules and regulations “regarding appropriate activities for children," and both “corrective measures” were completed by April 2017, according to The Kansas City Star.
But that was far from enough, Merseal said. "It's really hard to explain to a 4-year-old what is and isn't normal especially when they have their teacher telling them that, you know, they have to do this," Merseal told ABC News. "It took a long time for him to be comfortable in his new day care and to understand that they won't make him fight. ... It's really sad that he had to go through this."
That said, it's no wonder Merseal feels more needs to be done and has filed a civil suit against the facility. As she told ABC, "The day care should be held accountable."