Girl, 2, Dies After Choking On Carrot At Hicksville School

The state has closed down the toddler program at Carousel Day School in Hicksville after the death of a 2-year-old girl who plucked a baby carrot out of her teacher's bag and choked on it.

The State Office of Children and Family Services issued the school a cease-and-desist order Wednesday after an investigation spurred by the Tuesday death.

"We're closing them down," said Eddie Borges, a spokesman for the state Office of Children and Family Services. "They're not licensed in the State of New York. They're under our jurisdiction and we know nothing about them."

The toddler, Olivia Raspanti of Hicksville, choked at about 10:30 a.m. at the school after retrieving a carrot from behind her teacher's desk, said Det. Sgt. Anthony Repalone, a Nassau police spokesman.

Wednesday Olivia's grief-stricken grandfather, Anthony E. Raspanti, said he wants answers. "Are carrots supposed to be allowed in a classroom with 2-year-olds?" he asked. "Wasn't anybody looking?

"You send them to school because you want them to be safe . . . " he added. "Not because you want them dead."

The State Office of Children and Family Services found that the school was caring for nine children under the age of 3 for more than three hours a day. Any day care center that has two or more children for three or more hours a week must be licensed.

Carousel Day School was chartered in 1984 for preschool, kindergarten and first grade - not second or third - said Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the New York State Education Department.

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Karen Walker Bryce, general counsel for State Office of Children and Family Services, said the school could remain open if Carousel shuts down its program for children younger than 3 years old. But she said the state was investigating Carousel's other programs, such as an all-day nursery, after-school programs and a summer camp for children ages 2 and up.

The owners of the center, Jane and Gene Formica, did not respond to calls for comment.

In a statement, Gene Formica said, "The health and safety of all of our children is our greatest concern at Carousel Day School, and this loss has affected each of us very deeply and personally."

The toddler was in a classroom with about a dozen children, supervised by a teacher and two teachers' aides, police said.

School employees began performing first aid and called 911, police said. Police continued CPR when they arrived.

The toddler, who would have turned 3 later this spring, was transported to Nassau University Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 4:25 p.m., police said. The medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping raw vegetables, among other foods, away from children younger than 4 because they are choking hazards.

Parents picking up their children from Carousel Wednesday weren't all aware of the news.

Brunda Shastri, 43, of Westbury, whose 6-year-old daughter attends the school, said she was concerned about the death but added her experience with the school over the past three years has been positive. "It is a very good day care," she said. "They take care of things very well."

The Raspanti family - which includes her parents, Anthony J. and Lisa, and brothers, 7 and 9 - are now making funeral preparations. Her grandfather said he was going shopping to buy Olivia's last dress.

"She was a beautiful little girl - my princess," said Anthony Raspanti.

Among his last memories are a family party where Olivia sang "Happy Birthday" to her grandfather, helping him blow out the candles on his cake.

"There are no words to describe what I feel," he said. "It's like somebody hit you with a bowling ball and keeps shoving it in. You can't even catch your breath."

This story was reported by staff writers Michael Amon, Matthew Chayes, Zach Dowdy, Jennifer Kelleher and Laura Rivera.


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