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In an announcement at the start of the review of the indictments involving the nonprofit Chaffee Childcare Initiative and The Schoolhouse early childhood program, District 11 Judge Diana Bull recused herself from the case, citing her  role as a parent of a child who attends the school.

“The Court is going to disqualify itself at this time,” announced Bull. “The Court is a parent of the Poncha Schoolhouse, and as such, I am part of the Poncha Schoolhouse family. I will recuse.”

The Poncha Springs Schoolhouse. Photo by Jan Wondra.

The Department of Human Services (DHS), together with The Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office moved to shut down The Schoolhouse as reported by Ark Valley Voice on January 24. The school self-reported being a few minutes outside the child-caregiver ratio in one classroom, and after consulting with the Chaffee Early Childhood council and mental health professionals, issued another self-report regarding the repeat behavior of a child attending the school.

Two days later, Chaffee Childcare Initiative Executive Director Amy Lovato and The Schoolhouse Director Roberta Rodriguez were each charged with two Class 2 Misdemeanors for child abuse and  child neglect.

Late Monday, a statement was issued on behalf of Roberta Rodriguez and Amy Lovato from Jason Flores-Williams and Adam Tucker, lawyers for the defendants:

“January 30, 2023
We are prepared to fight to vindicate Amy Lovato and Roberta Rodriguez of these charges, which are unfounded. We are disappointed that charges were filed, as we do not believe any crime has occurred. The reactions of the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office and the local DHS are out of perspective. At all times, Roberta and Amy have acted professionally within the bounds of the law to ensure the safety, well-being, and confidentiality of the children involved. They maintain their innocence and are prepared to see this through in court.”

Bull made her announcement to her Chaffee County Courthouse hearing room containing a dozen or so people, many of them who were referenced as parents of children who attend The Schoolhouse’s early childhood programming. A 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1 date has been set before Chief Judge Patrick Murphy for him to reassign the case to an alternate judge.

As reported last Thursday by Ark Valley Voice (AVV), parents of the childcare program were extremely upset by the situation and described being called by those they didn’t know (not the school’s teachers) and told only that the school was being closed and to come get their children.

Several parents have described to AVV, that when they arrived to see the parking area around the school filled with police cars and saw armed law enforcement, their first terrifying thought was that “there must be an active shooter.” A large number of the school’s parents have taken to social media to voice their support for the school and the directors. Others have expressed their disapproval of the manner in which the school’s self-reported incidents have been handled.

At least one parent present in the courtroom wanted to make a statement before the court, but Judge Bull declined, reminding the courtroom that since she was recusing herself from the case, the statement should wait to be read before the judge selected to preside.