JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Parents whose children attend a Jacksonville day care were stunned Monday morning when the business abruptly closed its doors and changed the locks.
Creative Minds Academy has locations in the Deerwood and Durbin areas of Jacksonville. Both locations were locked up Monday, and parents were left scrambling to find other accommodations for their children.
News4Jax was told at least 100 children attend the centers.
"If there's a failing business, especially when there are children involved, just giving a notice," parent Kylie Rooff said. "It's really inconvenient for the parents and the students who got used to these teachers. It's horrible. We just all of a sudden have no day care."
The owner, Renee Stella, lives in West Palm Beach and News4Jax learned a day care Stella owned under the same name in West Palm Beach was closed about a year ago.
Staff members are concerned they won't get their last paycheck.
"All we know is that it’s closed," teacher Sheila Robertson said. "They said they would get in contact with us to pick up our belongings, so at 3:40, we are unemployed."
Robertson's director at the Durbin location said she saw some signs that things weren't good. She was told by the owner to order less food, to cut the A/C and then one day there was also a note on the door about the owner owing about $54,000, and if not paid the doors would close.
The owner has not responded to our attempts to reach her for comment, but parents shared messages with News4Jax that were sent to parents and staff late Sunday.
“It saddens us but we have closed down our schools,” the message read. “We are extremely sorry for our staff and our families.”
The message thanked the day care's employees for “all their hard work and long hours.”
"We ask everyone to remain professional and courteous," the message read. "This has been a most difficult decision for all. We mean no harm to anyone. We are truly sorry. We have tried all avenues to keep the schools going. With the very low population we can not go forward."
The day care said the locks had been changed and pass codes removed for the buildings and that no one can be allowed in for now.
Officials said any belongings left in the building will be returned to staff and families later, but they did not say when.
Some of the parents saw the message from the day care, but many did not. Quite a few parents came to the school with their children in tow Monday morning expecting to start a new week at school.
Some parents also prepay per month and are now out that money.
Rooff said she saw the message Sunday and has gotten her daughter's name on a waiting list at another day care, but for now, she's stuck.
"Luckily I was able to get the day off, but this means that I'm going to have to stop working a while," Rooff said. "We also paid our tuition last week for this week, so we're going to have to figure out how to get that back as well."
Robertson, who was a pre-K teacher at Creative Minds in Durbin, said it was more than just a job and her students mean the world to her.
"I want all my babies to know that it was out of my control and I will love you in my heart and miss you in my heart," Robertson said.
Besides the heartache of not being able to say goodbye to her students, Robertson said she's now unemployed, which is a position she and many staff members can't afford to be in.
"I feel so bad for the parents, but me, too. Now I have to look for another job. I have a mortgage and a car note and everyday living, and to be put in a position like this," Robertson said. "I have faith in God that he will make the lady do the right thing and pay us, because we all have to live, and hoping she knows you reap what you sow."