MORGAN HILL -- They called it a parent's worst nightmare -- entrusting their young children to a day care and finding out a teacher there is suspected of spiking sippy cups with crushed sleeping pills.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office on Thursday filed 10 misdemeanor charges against Deborah Gratz after a co-worker reported seeing her dose the cups early one morning before work. While none of the children ingested the pills that day, prosecutors said they don't know whether the kids had been given such doses in the past.

"We cannot prove that she did it on any other occasion, but I am certain that is a really significant and valid concern for parents, whether it happened before," said deputy district attorney Sumerle Davis.

Deborah Gratz, 59, of Hollister
Deborah Gratz, 59, of Hollister (Courtesy of the Morgan Hill police department)

"You entrust your children to a day care provider, or a school, or a nanny, and you expect them to be safe and protected. And then find out someone you are trusting is actually endangering them."

Gratz, a 59-year-old Hollister resident, faces five counts of attempted child endangerment and five counts of assault due to the potential harm to the children. The teacher was in charge of about 10 kids between the ages of 1 and 2 years old, and colleagues found residue believed to be from an over-the-counter sleep drug in five sippy cups after one of them reportedly spotted Gratz tampering with the vessels. Davis said it happened early in the morning while teachers were preparing for the day and before any parents or kids had arrived.


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"Obviously another worker there interrupted her and observed some of what she was doing," she said. "I can't say whether she was singling out certain children or actually interrupted before she got to all the cups."

The cups were confiscated and the school fired Gratz the same day.

"The safety and welfare of children is our top priority," said Morgan Hill Kiddie Academy franchise owner Rose Chin in a statement. "Ms. Gratz was terminated immediately for her actions and we are fully cooperating with authorities in this case."

However, the school has incurred the ire of parents because they didn't hear about the incident until police notified them the following week.

After Gratz's arrest three days after the incident, Morgan Hill police criticized the school in failing to tell them immediately.

"We certainly would have appreciated it," Morgan Hill police Sgt. Troy Hoefling said. "We could have gone out there and obtained statements from people who witnessed it that day, and gathered some of the evidence."

Investigators said she was using crushed up Sominex, which is a brand name for diphenhydramine. The drug is an antihistamine used for insomnia as well as relief of symptoms from allergies, the common cold and motion sickness.

According to the National Institutes of Health, it should not be used to cause sleepiness in children. "Excitement" was listed as a side effect, particularly in kids. Other side effects include dizziness, vomiting, loss of appetite, constipation and headache, and the first warning on the Sominex label says not to use it for children under 12.

Davis, who met Thursday morning with parents of kids at the day care and police, said she had not heard of any noticed side effects or "permanent or lasting damage."

If convicted, Gratz faces a maximum jail sentence of two and a half years if each count runs consecutively. Davis said that would be uncommon.

"That's the max she could get, I'm not suggesting that's what she's going to get or the likely sentence," she said.

Gratz is out of custody, but could not be reached for comment. Her arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday at the South County courthouse in Morgan Hill.

Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.