South El Monte parents say the stickers found on their kids were “calming patches” put on by a teacher
Preschool students at a Head Start school in South El Monte thought a teacher was rewarding them with colorful stickers she placed on their bodies, but parents say they were actually mood-calming patches affixed to their children without their consent.
Parents at Options for Learning Head Start said they noticed behavioral changes in their children over the last several weeks, including erratic mood swings and changes in their sleep patterns, which they believe were caused by the patches.
In a statement, Paul Pulver, the chief executive for Options for Learning, confirmed that “aromatic stickers were given to a limited number of students — one class of 16 students.”
“Over our 40-year history, the safety and well-being of our students have been at the core of our mission at Options for Learning,” Pulver said. “The stickers are advertised as harmless; they contain natural aromas including lavender, orange, cedarwood, and mandarin.”
The stickers violated Options for Learning policy requiring parental consent, and the employee who used them was fired, Pulver said.
The school will arrange for an independent investigation, he said.
“We will not compromise when it comes to the care, safety, and peace of mind of our students and families,” Pulver said.
The controversy began Nov. 15 when a boy was picked up from the Head Start school and his mother noticed something on his back, according to parents who shared details of the incident in a group chat.
The boy’s mother noticed a strong herbal aroma on the patch and shared a picture of it with the other parents. The patch featured a lazy-eyed sloth.
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Another parent, Stephanie Rodriguez, received the picture in the group chat and showed it to her 4-year-old son, Ethan. His face lighted up when he recognized it.
“His face was like an addict’s face,” Rodriguez said. “He said, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the sticker. That’s the koala sticker.’”
He pointed to his foot and said his teacher would put it there and take it off before the end of the school day.
The California Department of Social Services, the state agency that licenses child-care facilities, confirmed it is investigating the South El Monte Head Start but could not comment further.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said it was aware of the parents’ complaints, which have been compiled in a report and assigned to a detective. In a statement, the department said it cannot comment on the investigation.
This was not an isolated incident, parents say. Their children recognized pictures of the patches, and some even grabbed their parents’ phones and tried to smell the picture, according to Rodriguez.
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The specific brand of patch the children recognized, ZenPatch Mood Calming Stickers, are promoted as including essential oils meant to calm children, and the product claims it’s all-natural. Online advertisements for the patches describe them as “safe, effective and chemical-free.”
The online reviews are mixed, with some reviewers saying the patches help regulate moods and others calling them a “complete waste of money.”
Fox 11 News first reported on the incident at Options for Learning.
Many parents said they noted red flags leading up to this incident.
Rodriguez said her son fell at school earlier this year and hit his head, but staff didn’t immediately call her, instead letting him take a nap. When she asked the staff why no one called her, they said that a teacher advised against it.
“I said that was the wrong decision,” Rodriguez said.
Claudia Rivera said that over the last few months, her 3-year-old daughter, Hannah, has woken up screaming in the middle of the night from nightmares.
When Hannah first started attending Options for Learning two years ago, her teachers commended her for being able to use the restroom and developing her speech patterns, Rivera said. But this year, a teacher told Rivera that Hannah was regressing, wetting herself in class, and she had a behavior problem.
Hannah complained to her mother that her teacher hit her and pulled her hair, Rivera said.
But when Rivera complained, she said, the teacher blamed it on another student.
Rivera asked for an incident report and claimed that the teacher chided her for asking and referred her to a supervisor. Rivera said the exchange with Hannah’s teacher was so tense that she expressed concern to the supervisor, fearing retaliation against her daughter.
“The [supervisor] assured me that wouldn’t happen,” Rivera said.
But when she picked up her daughter after school that day, Hannah told her mother, “You hate my teacher, don’t you?” Rivera said.
Rivera said she later learned that the supervisor told Hannah’s teacher about her complaint and that the teacher told Hannah her mother hated her.
A few weeks later, parents began learning about the mood-calming patches.
When Rivera asked her daughter where her teacher would place the sticker, Hannah lifted up her shirt and patted her chest.
“So, obviously, I’m devastated,” she said.
A spokesperson for Options for Learning declined to comment about the abuse allegations.
Monique Mata said her 4-year-old son, Ezra, seemed energetic and outgoing before this semester at Options for Learning.
Then, he grew irritable and cried in the mornings when it was time to go to school. His sleep and eating patterns were also erratic, Mata said.
“He’s never talkative. Before, he would talk about how his day went at school and answer questions. I asked him now, and he was just like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it.’ He’s very timid and really mellowed out,” Mata said.
Mata said it’s as if the school is trying to push past what happened, and she doesn’t know whether she can trust anything administrators say at this point.
“I just feel like they’re in on it,” she said. “They’re saying that everything is OK now, but it’s not. This is just the beginning.”