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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.

The histoirc POncha Springs Schoolhouse now houses the Chaffee Childcare Initiative daycare. Photo by Jan Wondra

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.

Outside back play area.

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.”

Editor’s note: the original story included a photo taken for the opening ceremonies of  The Schoolhouse in 2020 and it has been removed.  AVV apologizes to the former employees who were in that photo and who have not worked there any time recently.  They have worked very hard for their credentials and they have nothing to do with the current investigations.