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The Licensing Log Style and the Charges Leveled at The Schoolhouse

Some conflicting and confusing information regarding the closure and charges filed in connection with The Schoolhouse and the Chaffee Childcare Initiative was shared by one of our [broadcast] fellow Colorado News Collaborative members, and then picked up locally by Heart of the Rockies Radio. Something about it didn’t make sense; especially the list of infractions termed, ‘consistent and repeated’ licensing violations that were nowhere to be found in the Chaffee Sheriff’s Office incident report.

Ark Valley Voice contacted Chaffee County Early Childhood Council Executive Director Sarah Romack for some background on how the Colorado Department of Early Childhood reports and monitors childcare facility infractions, or ultimately pulls a license, as they did with The Schoolhouse in a formal notice on January 31.

Chaffee County Early Childhood Council

What Romack shared with us answered our initial questions, but raised others.

“You should know I sent an email to the [broadcast] news reporter explaining this as well,” said Romack. “If you are going to write a story on a document like that you have to know how childcare licensing reporting works.”

She explained that the licensing document is a chronological log: “It lists other offenses but it is likely those have been corrected. So when childcare licensing comes to visit you, they look at your files, your playgrounds, and the classroom. They might have a finding – typically it can be up to five things, and it’s usually like  — there was a training and it was missing from some of your staff files. Or a health form is missing from a child file, or there are some staples in the wall that could be a hazard. They say ‘this is what we found’ and you get the opportunity to correct those.”

“I don’t know what went wrong, but it is highly likely that these other things they listed have been corrected — they might have done the training, but it wasn’t in the staff file. It’s not uncommon for providers to have things like that found when licensing comes to visit,” said Romack.

Listening to Romack, the kind of environmental inspections done by the Department of Health in restaurants to make sure the restaurant environment is safe came to mind. Those inspections can include things like; water quality, no contaminants on the cutting boards, cleaning grease from grill traps, proper food temperatures, and that restaurant workers are washing their hands. I raised this with Romack.

“I am an experienced childcare provider myself,’ said Romack, “and I can tell you, they could come in and say ‘Oh, your anti-bacterial soap is out where kids can reach it.’ They tell you what things to correct, but they never suspend your license for those things. That paper they get from the state that tells them what has been found — they tack on report items — it’s a running record and childcare providers address them. But they would never suspend your license for any of those things [the additional listed in the broadcast news story].”

Romack said that the Sheriff’s Incident Report specified the reason the license was suspended; that DHS and the Sheriff’s Office decided they didn’t file the official report in a timely-enough fashion. “This is really sad. They served 24 childcare slots, and were working on expanding and serving more.” She sighed. “We just can’t afford to lose the 24 slots.”

Regarding where to place the children who now have no childcare, Romack said, there are 11 other early childhood care providers in the entire county.  “We’re working on placement — we’ve basically reached out to all 11 licensed providers in the county. There is an emergency waiver they can file to take on more children if they are full, but just a few have agreed to do that.”

“We understand the difficulties and frustrations this whole situation has created for local families, and are doing all we can to reach out to other childcare centers here and help connect people with childcare resources in the community to meet their immediate needs,” read a recent county press release quoting Chaffee DHS Director Monica Haskell. “We want to support the process, the numerous organizations involved, and the individuals affected in all the ways that we’re able to.”

When asked why childcare providers aren’t stepping up to help, Romack paused and said, “Just the fear that it could happen with the other centers we’re trying to help. They all felt like, ‘Oh, this could also happen to us, if we don’t report in what is considered an ‘acceptable timeframe.'”

“We’ve been looking into the avenue of unlicensed care,” added Romack. “In Colorado, you can have up to four kiddos in one home as long as you only have two under the age of two.”

Childcare Licensing Takes Months

The Colorado Department of Early Childhood Education has announced the suspension of The Schoolhouse license ‘indefinitely’.”

Asked how long it takes to get a childcare license, Romack said it depends upon the situation. “For a new person to get licensed, it depends on the site, what they have to do to get up to code. With the Schoolhouse, I believe they have to get through this legal stuff before licensing can even look at taking their licenses off suspension. That has to be over with first.”

She gave a sobering projection; “They will have to go through the process all over again —  both CCI and the Schoolhouse. Yes, they have a staff, a building; those are easy. But all the documents have to be uploaded into the state’s PDIS system, they have to go through more inspections. It will be like when they were first licensed. Six to nine months at least.”

Romack said she wasn’t surprised by Judge Diana Bull’s comment when she recused herself from the criminal cases because her child attended The Schoolhouse, explaining ‘we are part of the Schoolhouse family.’

“That says a lot,” said Romack. “We’ve always worked with The Schoolhouse, and our early childhood mental health professional has too. She has only wonderful things to say about them at the Schoolhouse.”