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Sheriff’s Deputies Descend on The Schoolhouse in Response to Self-reported Incident / Chaffee Sheriff’s Office Issues Class 2 misdemeanor Charges, Chaffee Childcare Initiative Issues Statement

Sheriff’s Deputies Descend on The Schoolhouse in Response to Self-reported Incident / Chaffee Sheriff’s Office Issues Class 2 misdemeanor Charges, Chaffee Childcare Initiative Issues Statement


By Jan Wondra, Ark Valley Voice (AP Storyshare)
(This post contains two parts of a developing story.)

Sheriff’s Deputies Descend on The Schoolhouse in Response to Self-reported Incident

This is Part I of a Developing Story: What was it like to have at least a half dozen sheriff’s deputies barge into a childcare center? How frightened were those children?

There appears to be a local case of law enforcement asserting their dominance in the public square, and in a school setting in a forceful way. Some might call a response from no less than six to eight Chaffee County Sheriff’s deputies to an area childcare facility excessive.

The release from the Chaffee County Sheriff reads: “On January 24, 2023 the Chaffee County Department of Human Service (DHS) and the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Chaffee County Child Care Initiative, Poncha Springs, after DHS received a complaint of Lack of Supervision.”

What the release does not say, according to a source close to the situation, is that the Chaffee Child Care Initiative (CCI) self-reported a dip in the child-to-caregiver ratio for a few minutes on a previous weekday, after a child peed on the linens during nap time.

“The first time we heard that this happened because of the lack of supervision was in the [Chaffee Sheriff’s] press release which came out later,” confirmed our source close to the facility.

A staffer at The Schoolhouse has confirmed the details of the circumstances of the self-report last Thursday, January 19. One of the caregivers cleaned up the child who had had the ‘accident’, and took the linens to the laundry.

Upon returning, the caregivers assigned to the room wrote up a report because for the three to five minutes it took to get the soiled linens to the laundry room they dropped below the caregiver-child ratio.

The Chaffee County Department of Human Services (DHS) received the childcare facilities’ self-report, and sources tell Ark Valley Voice (AVV) that they received no follow-up contact prior to the arrival of DHS Director Monica Haskell with armed law enforcement at The Schoolhouse.

One wonders if the childcare center had not removed the soiled linens and cleaned up the child, would they have been accused of neglect or running an unsanitary childcare facility?

The Sheriff’s release says: “Upon arriving at the Child Care Facility investigators from DHS made contact with the staff and advised them of the situation. Parents were contacted at that time to make arrangements for them to pick up their kids in attendance.”

Our CCI source says that other than their own self-report, CCI doesn’t know what else DHS is investigating them for, and weren’t informed that DHS and law enforcement were coming; they just showed up. Sending six to eight uniformed officers at once to a childcare center in this day and age, and separating children from their childcare providers could really frighten three or four-year-old kiddos.

“I can confirm that the way they showed up was a surprise. We anticipated there would be some following up on our self-report. But the manner in which they showed up … the poor children were frightened, and the most terrified were the parents, who were told only that ‘The Schoolhouse is being closed and come get your kids’,” said our confidential source. “There were six to eight officers standing in our small foyer. The officers wouldn’t let the staff call the parents to pick up the children.”

Who notified the parents and how? “We don’t know if it was DHS or the officers, but there were at least a couple of incidents of divorced or separated parents where the wrong parent was called — setting off alarm bells for working parents.”

The officers had the caregivers compiling documents, while a few were allowed to stay with some of the children. The staff was asked for everything from attendance records, to contact lists. They were also asked for children’s personal files (which would seem to be confidential) and staff files.

The Schoolhouse has been shut down, “pending the outcome of the investigation”. This surely does make it sound as if the childcare facility was caught red-handed, rather than the truth; which is that they were the ones who filed the self-report related to the few minutes of shortfall of their child-caregiver ratio in a room during naptime.

“I am so distressed for the families and our children,” said our source. “I heard yesterday, we might hear something next week. We have received a lot of support from our parents. They have been very understanding. Our staff is having a hard time — this is rough on them. It was not easy to watch our parents and kids go through this. We do respect law enforcement but this was a bit of an overreaction.

Wednesday evening, January 25, 2023, this statement was issued on behalf of Chaffee Childcare Initiative & The Schoolhouse

Last week, The Schoolhouse, a childcare center operated by Chaffee Childcare Initiative (CCI), became aware of a three-to-five-minute time period in one of our classrooms, during which the teacher-to-child ratio was not met, as required by Colorado Childcare Rules & Regulations. At no time were the children without adult supervision.

CCI promptly self-reported the situation to DHS and the Colorado Office of Early Childhood – Division of Early Care and Learning Licensing, in accordance with mandatory reporting requirements. On Tuesday, January 24, the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office directed The Schoolhouse to close our center pending an investigation into a complaint of Lack of Supervision.

CCI as well as The Schoolhouse management and staff have always been, and will continue to be, ardently dedicated to the well-being, enrichment, and safety of all the children in our care, a responsibility we take very seriously. We appreciate the quick response from DHS and the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office, and we look forward to a swift resolution to this situation. We are eager to welcome our community’s children and our staff back to The Schoolhouse in the near future.”

The Colorado Licensing Authority was informed of the investigation and will make a final decision on the facility’s license status. One would hope that they, at least, would actually read the self-report.

In the meantime, the reputation of CCI is questioned, children were frightened, and working parents desperately in need of childcare are scrambling. Many have already lost work time after being called to retrieve children.

“What are those parents going to do?” said a parent whose child had previously attended the daycare, affectionately known as “The Schoolhouse. “They need that childcare to be able to work.”

Perhaps the larger question is: what would be an appropriate proportionate response from our public servants — both DHS and law enforcement?

Editor’s Notes: According to our AVV sources, CCI was told not to say anything to the public, and employees were told they couldn’t talk to anyone about this. There is nothing legally binding that says that the Chaffee County Child Care Initiative board can’t put out their own statement (which they did Wednesday evening as published above). There is no reason that employees can’t talk about how this incident or the law enforcement response impacted them and the families they serve.

DHS Director Monica Haskell and Chaffee County Sheriff were contacted by AVV for comment. In a brief exchange late afternoon in the hallway of the Tauber Building following a meeting with the childcare center parents, Haskell confirmed that her comment was “no comment”, although she also confirmed that the department response is the same whether for a self-reported incident, or one reported by others for any incident involving child welfare. The Chaffee County Sheriff has not yet responded.

The historic Poncha Springs Schoolhouse was reopened in 2020 as the Chaffee Childcare Initiative Schoolhouse. Photo by Jan Wondra for Ark Valley Voice.

Chaffee Sheriffs Office Issues Class 2 misdemeanor Charges, Chaffee Childcare Initiative Issues Statement

Part II of a Developing story: Early Childhood Behavior, and Facility Self-reporting Leads to Charges

One aspect of covering developing news stories is that reporters often see parties in the news story beginning to shape the narrative. Ark Valley Voice tries very hard to stick to the facts, but also to check sources that are directly involved, as well as examining the procedures that are being used to investigate an issue.

Mid-afternoon on Thursday, January 26, a release was issued by the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office as it continued the processes related to investigations of The Schoolhouse, a nonprofit childcare facility operated by Chaffee Childcare Initiative located in Poncha Springs. It announced that earlier in the day, two individuals had been criminally charged related to the investigation of The Schoolhouse.

But several hours before that release was issued, this reporter conducted an interview with two people representing the Chaffee Childcare Initiative (CCI) who confirmed the details of our earlier news story and shared what at that moment was confidential information concerning a second self-reported event last week.

Because it involved a young child’s behavior, the reference was to a “child A”; whose behavior had been immediately noted, parents were informed and a self-report by The Schoolhouse had been filed.

In a circumstance that some parents of young children may recognize, “child A’s attempted pants-pulling down” action of another child (referred to as Child B), was first noted on Monday, January 16, and the child was instructed regarding acceptable behavior. Two CCI representatives confirmed that it occurred again the next day, and twice further during the week; corrective action was taken, the parents were informed of the unacceptable behavior and a self-report was completed. With the repeat behavior, the parents were told to keep the child home until the behavior was modified.

Hours later on Thursday, the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office filed charges and issued a press release:

“The Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office joined the Chaffee County Department of Human Services (DHS) in a joint investigation based on the scope of the allegations” wrote Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze. “We take every allegation of this nature with the utmost seriousness and concern. Every Child’s safety is always our number one priority.”

“… The Sheriff’s Office and Chaffee County Department of Human Services have completed initial interviews with staff and with parents/guardians who have child(ren) enrolled at The Schoolhouse. As a result, criminal charges have been filed against two staff members of The Schoolhouse under Colorado Revised Statutes (CRS) § 19-3-304 for failure to report child abuse or neglect; and for knowingly placing a child in a situation that poses a threat of injury under CRS § 18-6-401. Both Roberta Rodriguez, 45, of Buena Vista and Amy Lovato, 40, of Salida were served these charges on January 26, 2023. Both charges are classified as Class 2 misdemeanor offenses.”

The uniformed summons and complaint requested that both are ordered to appear in court on January 31, 2023.

In response, the Chaffee Childcare Initiative Board of Directors issued the following statement Thursday evening:

“We are dismayed to share that two very valued members of our staff were served with charges today by the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office. We stand by both CCI Executive Director Amy Lovato and The Schoolhouse Site Director Roberta Rodriguez who have shown only care and compassion toward the children who attend The Schoolhouse during their tenures serving our organization and our community. CCI will continue to support Amy and Roberta through this process and are eager for their opportunity to share the true facts of the situation through the judicial process. We look forward to them both being cleared of all charges.”

The Schoolhouse facility’s license to operate was temporarily suspended by the Colorado Department of Early Childhood  (CDEC) beginning on January 25 at the initiation of the investigation by Chaffee DHS and Sheriff’s Office. The CDEC, which oversees the licensure of childcare facilities across Colorado, will make its own assessments. Their state-level childcare licensing oversight of the facility is separate from the Sheriff’s Office investigation and criminal charges against individuals.

The CDEC says that it will work with families who have been affected by the loss of childcare to evaluate alternative local childcare options.

In a brief exchange late afternoon in the hallway of the Touber Building following a meeting with the childcare center parents, Department of Human Services Director Monica Haskell confirmed that her comment had to be “no comment”; she also confirmed that the department response for any incident involving child welfare is the same whether for a self-reported incident, or one reported by others.

Somewhat ironically, the Sheriff’s release ended on this hopeful note: “All persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty through due process.”

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