The parking lot of New Operation Cooper Street pictured in December of 2017, which is known as Cooper Street Recreation Center, at 650 Mary St., in Punta Gorda.

New Operation Cooper Street, Inc., in Punta Gorda is accused of operating a day care program illegally without a license.

That’s according to a court filing from the Florida Department of Children and Families this week.

On Monday, DCF filed a petition for emergency temporary injunction and permanent injunction against the nonprofit organization’s day care at 650 Mary St., in Punta Gorda.

Cooper Street’s Board Chair Zelda Smith is also named as a defendant on DCF’s court filing.

Operation Cooper Street has closed its day care program temporarily, according to a statement from Cooper Street’s Board of Directors.

“There was no (permanent) injunction filed against Cooper Street to necessitate closure,” said the statement.

They had to close one of the programs temporarily “in order to not run aground of an interagency conflict between the DCF head office in Tallahassee and its Fort Myers office,” the statement said.

The K-5 day care program is the only program at the center being affected by the injunction. No one could provide an answer as to how many children were affected by the closure.

On May 8, DCF issued a notification of an unlicensed/illegal day care facility to Smith, requiring them to cease operation of the day care by May 15, according to Monday’s court filing in Charlotte County’s 20th Judicial Circuit Court.

In the report, it is stated the day care continued to operate illegally after that notification.

Cooper Street filed its license renewal application in September, according to the statement.

DCF representatives did not respond Thursday to questions from the Sun.

According to the statement, a DCF administrative assistant at the Fort Myers office told the Cooper Street board that their paperwork was lost within the agency.

“As a result,” said the statement, “a counselor from the Ft. Myers’ office came to the facility not knowing that Cooper St. had filed its renewal paperwork with the agency. Being unaware of her own office’s relationship with Cooper St., she presented a document saying that the K-5 program had to close in five business days.”

According to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office − tasked with enforcing the injunction − they haven’t received any reports of any illegal operation of the day care at the center since the injunction was served.

Mike Riley, spokesperson for Charlotte County Public Schools, said he was unaware of any injunction or lack of proper licensing at the center.

“It is possible that we may not have been notified by DCF,” Riley said.

In the court record, DCF lists reasons why a temporary injunction should be issued, including operating a day care without a license, as well as potential harm that could come to the children by an individual who has not been properly screened to care for them.

The statement said the Tallahassee DCF office recognizes Cooper Street to be in compliance but advised them to close the program temporarily until the Fort Myers office resolved its issues.

“After finally being able to reach Ft. Myers office administrative staff last week and bringing this error to their attention,” said the statement, “the staff acknowledged that there was an error but we were told that the only officials who could rectify this situation were at that agency conference in Orlando. Now that all the staff are back in the office, we are awaiting their resolution of this issue.”

It’s up to DCF to request a final hearing for a permanent injunction against the day care, according to the court record.

“What has been explained to us by the Fort Myers office as of last Friday,” the statement said, “is that the staff member in charge of our file left the agency and now they are discovering that many of his files are in disorder. As a result, on Friday we were asked to resubmit our renewal package from last September again (and have) provided all the paperwork requested of us.”

New Operation Cooper Street is a K-12 after-school program that, according to the Charlotte County Public Schools website, is still licensed by DCF, referencing operation hours to be from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“We expect this to be resolved quickly and to be back in full operation well before the summer session begins,” said the statement.

Editor’s Note: In an earlier version of this story, statements were attributed to New Operation Cooper Street’s Board Chair Zelda Smith that were provided to the Sun by Punta Gorda City Council Member Jaha Cummings. Cummings said in an email that Smith wanted him to forward it to the Sun for her. Subsequently, Smith called the Sun saying she did not say the statements and that they were from the New Operation Cooper Street’s Board.


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