Pictures went viral of two young boys who were severely sunburned while playing at a splash pad under the supervision of a Vinita daycare in July. It’s not the first time operators of Happiness is a Learning Center have been accused of neglect.

When the owners of a Vinita daycare made national headlines because two young boys ended up in a burn treatment hospital after playing outside for hours without sunscreen, it wasn’t the facility’s first brush with unwanted publicity for allegations of neglect.

Records show the operators of Happiness is a Learning Center’s Vinita facility were investigated for allegations of child molestation at a Tulsa day care they operated in the late 1980s under the same name near Fourth Street and Memorial Drive.

Geneva Young, the owner of Happiness is a Learning Center, was sued for negligence in 1989 in Tulsa County District Court based on allegations that an employee or employees molested three children in 1987 and/or January 1988 at Young’s day care center in Tulsa, also named Happiness is a Learning Center.

No one was ever charged criminally following a police investigation, but then-District Attorney David Moss told reporters that “probably something happened” to the children, according to Tulsa newspaper archives. Moss said his staff decided the case wasn’t “prosecutable.”

The children were young and had trouble identifying the molester, he told reporters.

The Frontier has requested records and licenses issued by the Department of Human Services to Geneva Young and Happiness is a Learning Center. A department spokeswoman told The Frontier that DHS was not aware of the lawsuit allegations when it granted Young a license to operate the Happiness is a Learning Center day care in Vinita in 2001.

Secretary of State business registry records show Happiness is a Learning Center has been operating on the same certificate of incorporation since 1982, until its business license was suspended in April for an Oklahoma Tax Commission violation.

A DHS spokeswoman told The Frontier that the agency checks Secretary of State business registration records when the child care operator initially applies for a license.

The negligence lawsuit against Happiness is a Learning Center languished for years in Tulsa County District Court, and later in a related case in Oklahoma’s northern district of federal court.  It was dismissed without prejudice in 1996 when a Tulsa County judge ruled that it had not been litigated in a timely fashion.

The lawsuit alleged that Young and the day care’s owners breached their duty to the childrens’ parents in various ways “including violation of laws with respect to understaffing, overcrowding, health violations with respect to inoculations, admission of ill and contaminated children, mice and rat infestation, electrical and fire plans, background checks of employees, structural violations permitting children to be isolated, sequestered and segregated with employees so as to provide an environment suitable for unobserved child abuse and that blatant and repeated acts of child abuse and molestation” upon the plaintiffs’ children.

A mother of one of the children at the center of that lawsuit, who spoke to The Frontier on condition of anonymity, said what happened to her child at Happiness is a Learning Center altered their lives forever. The allegations involved several children, she said, and their parents were frustrated and angered by prosecutors’ decision not to file charges, and spent years tangled up in court with the civil lawsuit.

Separate DHS and police investigations into the Vinita day care are ongoing. Vinita police chief Bobby Floyd said last week that surveillance footage showed the boys were outside at the splash pad for about two hours that day.

The story of the two boys, ages 5 and 7, with red hair and pale skin covered in giant burn blisters, went viral in late July after their aunt posted graphic pictures on Facebook. Family members said the boys were taken by the day care’s employees to a splash pad left outside for hours in summer sun without sunscreen.

The day care center reportedly admitted to police that it did not put sunscreen on the boys, but said it was because none was provided to them.

The phone at the day care has been disconnected and Young could not be reached for comment. Several business and residential phone numbers listed to her were not answered or had been transferred to other owners.

The facility has not commented on the current allegations, but did shut down last week as requested by DHS.

In the images, both boys have large yellow blisters on their shoulders and backs. The boys were flown from a Tulsa hospital to a burn treatment unit at Shriner’s Hospital in Texas.

Family members of the boys could not be reached for comment by The Frontier.

The Vinita day care has a number of citations stretching back to September 2014.

The facility was licensed Nov. 1, 2001, according to DHS records. Inspection records show it was cited 19 times by DHS in the past 10 months.

The “noncompliances” observed by DHS workers at the day care center over the past year range from things such as “not having a no-smoking sign posted,” to multiple instances of “not having a master teacher on staff” and no one on staff having “bronze credentials for director.”

Those two noncompliances were observed during the last DHS visit to the facility on May 29, according to DHS records.

It was the second time that month a complaint was lodged for not having a master teacher, and the third time since January the facility had been cited for not having anyone staff with director’s credentials. In the observation log, a DHS worker noted that no one with director’s credentials has been at the facility since Dec. 23, 2014, and that a plan of correction that was due in March had expired without any action.

According to DHS records, the day care center has been observed four times since Sept. 30. The most citations lodged in a single visit came May 19, when 13 noncompliances were observed.

“Whenever possible, we work with child care programs to help get them into compliance with requirements and to maintain compliance.  When non-compliance is observed at a program or a complaint is substantiated, the program submits an acceptable plan of correction,” said Debra Martin, a spokeswoman for DHS. 

Happiness is a Learning Center was cited for having 17 children and only two directors in a space appropriate for only nine children, records show. Another citation was for having an employee tell children that another child crying during story time should be ignored “because he is being ugly.”