Pastors, politicians and families gathered outside a church preschool in San Diego County to protest against California shutting down the school for violating the state’s COVID-19 mask mandate. The church claims it’s being targeted by regulators.
Foothills Christian Church Preschool in El Cajon was a scene of protest Friday as Republican State Sen. Brian Jones, the city’s Mayor Bill Wells and area pastors gathered along with parents to protest the state’s decision to close the school for not masking the 3 to 5-year-old children.
Additionally, preschool director Tiffany McHugh was suspended from working with children.
The preschool, which has been shut down by the California Department of Social Services Community Care Licensing since Dec. 10, has over 100 kids and has been in operation for six years.
David Hoffman, who senior pastors the church with his brother, Mark, claimed during the demonstration that state representatives visited the daycare over 11 times in the last several months. The visits began after a complaint from a parent.
“Our church used to have a great preschool here,” he said. “We had over 100 students, and we had a waiting list ... so large that we were in the process of expanding our preschool.”
“Several months ago, this church, this preschool became a target by the Department of Social Services. Basically, what it boils down to is they were not happy with how many of our children did not have masks on,” he claimed. “They came here, they visited. They found a few other violations, which our director rectified in 24 hours. But the state kept coming back, 11 times. ... Seven of those times were from 9 a.m. in the morning to 6 p.m. that night.”
“What were they doing all that time?” he asked. “Looking through our files. ... They are looking at these files over and over and over again to try to find any violation they could. ... It’s harassment, its intimidation.”
Hoffman said that on three separate visits, state representatives interviewed children without parental consent. On Nov. 15, the church was told it was “doing better.” On Dec. 7, Hoffman said that the church received a facility evaluation.
“They couldn’t really find anything wrong except that not enough kids had masks on,” Hoffman said. “I want to read this to you: ‘There were disinfectants, cleaning solutions, poisons and other items that posed a danger to children.’ I defy anybody to go into this building right now and find poisons.”
The senior pastor alleges that the violation was from a time one of the teachers used a Clorox wipe to wipe down a table, and authorities say she didn’t lock the cabinet.
On Dec. 10, a state representative and a law enforcement officer showed up to close down the daycare without prior notice to families, Hoffman added.
“All she kept saying to me over and over again is that this shutdown is because ‘we are concerned about the health and safety of these children,’” he said.
“Now you have all these families that don’t have anywhere to take their kids.”
The Department of Social Services pointed CBS 8 toward legal documents claiming that the daycare and McHugh failed to ensure all employees wore a mask while indoors and didn’t encourage students 2 years of age and older to wear a mask. The state also alleges that McHugh prevented officials from inspecting the facility, which allowed employees and students time to put on their masks.
The Department of Social Services had been visiting the school for inspection since last September.
During the protest, McHugh said she was shocked the state suspended her from working with children. She told CBS 8 in an interview that the school is “going up against a lot of parents that don’t want their children to be masked" and young children who pull off their masks.
Sen. Jones said during the demonstration that in his 20 years of office, the situation involving the daycare is the “single most upsetting situation I have ever had a government agency put down on my constituents.”
“These people aren’t here for the politicians,” Jones said of the demonstraters. “These people are here for [McHugh], this morning.”
“Tiffany, what they have done to you is wrong,” Jones said to applause. “I believe it is unconstitutional and it violates every founding principle of this country and even this state. All these people are here for you. They support you and they trust you.”
Jones told KUSI News that the state’s action is an “overreach of the state government and regulatory agencies.”
“This is the caring part of the government and what they’ve done is a cruel and unusual punishment to … 100 families,” Jones said.
Parent John McGovern told the outlet that “Tiffany McHugh is a wonderful director. We feel our children are safe in her care.”
Foothills Christian Church has appealed the closure and a hearing has been scheduled for next Friday.