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Sep. 30—TRAVERSE CITY — A former day care worker who was accused of abusing two 3-year-old children at the Central Day Care Center in Garfield Township in May has been convicted of one count of child abuse.

Grace LaCoste, 22, pleaded no contest to the charge in 86th District Court on Sept. 13. A second charge was dismissed.

LaCoste was charged with fourth-degree child abuse, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail, because it is her first offense and “because there was no recorded injury to the child,” Kyle Attwood, Grand Traverse County chief assistant prosecutor, said.

An investigative report submitted to the prosecutor’s office by sheriff’s Detective Michael Matteucci describes incidents that occurred on May 10 and May 11 in which LaCoste kicked a 3-year-old boy after the boy climbed into another child’s cot during naptime, and forcibly removed a 3-year-old girl from a table after she climbed onto it while playing with other children.

Both incidents were videotaped, according to Matteucci’s report, which says that the girl began crying after LaCoste grabbed her by her arms and swung her off the table.

Central Day Care, which previously had issued written reprimands to LaCoste in November 2022 and last May, terminated her after the May 10 and May 11 incidents were reported to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and law enforcement.

But Central Day Care did more than fire LaCoste, Traverse City attorney Blake Ringsmuth said.

“What we have learned is that this is not the first time that this teacher acted inappropriately with children,” Ringsmuth said. “And to make matters worse, day care administrators retaliated against some of the brave employees who came forward to report this illegal behavior. We will be pursuing that additional illegal retaliation vigorously.”

Asked to comment on Ringsmuth’s claims, Central Day Care Program Director Janessa Matthews said, “No, we are not going to comment.”

Signs currently posted in front of the center at 4100 Barnes Road say: “Under New Management” and “Now Hiring.”

In an interview with Matteucci during which the detective showed LaCoste a video recording of the incident with the boy, Matteucci wrote that Lacoste said, “I didn’t like it; it didn’t look right,” referring to the video.

Asked to explain herself, LaCoste denied kicking the boy, saying “she was trying to remove him from her foot,” Matteucci wrote.

Asked by the detective how she was feeling at the time, “Grace stated that she was feeling stressed partly because of the lack of help and also partly because the kids were going crazy.”

LaCoste is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 19 by Judge Michael Stepka. She did not return a call from the Record-Eagle seeking comment.

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