One month prior to her retirement last summer, the director of the Ravenswood City School District's preschool was formally disciplined for releasing the wrong child to an unauthorized adult, according to documents the district released in response to a Public Records Act request from the Palo Alto Weekly.
Glenda Savage, who was hired as director of the Child Development Center (CDC) in 2015, "showed a complete disregard for student welfare and safety" in her handling of the June 2017 incident, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Ruth Woods wrote in a letter of reprimand.
Woods found that Savage had mistakenly released a girl to a man who had arrived to pick up a different student with the same first name. The correct child was enrolled at a different school altogether, has a different last name and is a different age than the child who was released, according to Woods' investigation.
The incident prompted a site visit from the California Department of Social Services' licensing division, which found safety violations at the Child Development Center.
Savage did not return several requests for comment. In a statement she wrote the day after the incident, Savage did not take responsibility for the mistake but instead suggested the child's teacher was at fault for releasing the student.
This is the first time details have been provided about the incident that led to Savage's departure from the Child Development Center, which is again experiencing turmoil as budget cuts have forced the district to close the preschool this summer. (San Mateo County is currently negotiating with the state to find a new provider to serve the more than 100 students enrolled there.)
Community members have also publicly questioned the district's hiring of Savage, who is Board of Education Vice President Sharifa Wilson's domestic partner, as part of growing criticism of Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff's leadership — and in particular, as evidence for an alleged pattern of favoritism. During Hernandez-Goff's tenure, her husband, son and granddaughter have worked for the district in various capacities. Her son is still employed as a data quality support technician in the district office and her husband oversees volunteers for a food distribution program.
The district investigated the safety incident last summer, reviewing statements from Savage, incident reports from CDC staff members who were present and meeting with the parent of the child who was mistakenly released.
Last June, a man arrived at the Child Development Center at 951 O'Connor St. in East Palo Alto and gave Savage the last name of a sick child he was picking up early, according to a statement Savage provided to the district. He was on the phone with the child's parent, his co-worker, Savage said. She attempted to call the child's mother, who speaks Spanish and did not understand English. A staff member called the mother, who relayed the room number her child was in, according to Savage's statement.
Savage said she asked for and made a copy of the man's driver's license, complying with procedure spelled out in the CDC parent handbook. The man was not, however, an authorized adult to whom the student could be released.
Under board policy, students at the Child Development Center can only be released during the school day to their parents, guardians, adults authorized to pick them up on the students' emergency cards, authorized law enforcement officers or adults taking a child to emergency medical care. Staff are required to ask any such person, if unknown to the staff member, to present a photo identification before picking up a child.
Savage requested the child's first and last name and started looking for the student's file but "became distracted" by other parents in the preschool's office, Woods wrote. Savage wrote the student's name on an early-release slip and sent the man — who also had not signed in with Savage on a sheet at the front office — to the child's classroom.
"I instructed him to hand the form to (the teacher) and if that was not the right child or 'if you don't recognize (redacted name), to come back to the office,'" Savage said in her statement. "When he arrived back in the office he had the child with him and said 'I do not know this child.'"
Savage said the man never left the preschool campus with the girl, but the student's mother disputed that. She said someone told her the man took her child to his car before returning to the preschool's office, according to Woods' report. The mother said she learned this after Savage had told her "there was nothing to worry about," she told Woods. The mother said she then called the office to speak with Savage, but Savage had left for the day.
"I feel like she really didn't care about my child and my child's safety," the mother told Woods.
As a result of the incident, the California Department of Social Services's Community Care Licensing division visited the Child Development Center on June 19. The agency found two "Type A" deficiencies, which "if not corrected, represent an immediate risk to the health, safety or personal rights of children in care."
The agency determined a child was released to an unauthorized adult and that the preschool did not report the incident as required within 24 hours to the Department of Social Services.
The Child Development Center agreed to enter a one-year compliance plan with the state licensing division, committing the facility to a series of corrective actions. The district promised to provide ongoing training to "repeatedly emphasize the importance of personal rights and active supervision," a Community Care Licensing division document states.
The district also agreed to revise the Child Development Center's parent and staff handbooks by the end of October to include protocol for early releases and any special circumstances; to talk with students about "strangers" and notifying staff; and to provide notes for staff meetings that took place after the incident.
The CDC was also required to post a notice describing the violations for the next 30 days and inform all new enrolling parents about them for one year following the report.
This "potentially tarnishes the reputation of the program, placing the CDC at risk of being unable to attract new enrollees" and "subjects the district to unwanted scrutiny, potentially jeopardizing the licensure of the facility/program," Woods wrote in the discipline letter.
Woods directed Savage to comply with all district procedures and policies and licensing regulations as well as to find and complete a district-approved training on the safety and welfare of young children.
Though Woods also recommended to Hernandez-Goff that Savage be suspended without pay for five days, that discipline was never implemented, said Janae Novotny, a district attorney. She declined to state why, citing the confidentiality of personnel issues.
"There are things that happened between the investigation and (when) she eventually retired," Novotny said of Savage.
A copy of Savage's reprimand letter was placed in her file.
Savage signed a notice of retirement on Aug. 28, 2017.
Before her hiring, Savage had served as a consultant for the CDC, according to her resume. In that role, she developed a "long-term compliance plan" and helped staff develop special-education curriculum and materials. She is also the founder of the Children's Preservation Network, which provided infant and toddler care in East Palo Alto, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the East Palo Alto Sanitary District.