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As with all previous Ark Valley Voice articles on the developing story of the shutdown of the Chaffee Childcare Initiative at The Schoolhouse in Poncha Springs on January 24, and the charges filed in this controversial case, we note how careful news media must be in how we report the facts of the case. 

Lady Justice. Courtesy file.

Like police reports, news media reports and articles are part of the official public record and are often used in legal cases, as well as historical records. Newsrooms are therefore ethically bound to present news and information in the most forthright and factual way. More importantly, information in this digital age, particularly “official” reports, can be manipulated and weaponized against people in unexpected and powerful ways, making how news media covers a situation even more important.

A February 3, 2023 article by our print competitor summarizing the Chaffee County Sheriff Schoolhouse closure incident report is one such case. The article contains both potentially harmful details of the incident and a gross misrepresentation of the facts as laid out by the investigators. 

First, the Code of Colorado Regulations (CCR) for Social Services, the governing document concerning the setup and operation of daycare facilities, specifies in policy 7.701.65 “Maintenance and Confidentiality of Child/Youth Records.”

   A. Each licensed childcare facility shall maintain records as required by the State Department pertaining to the admission, progress, health, and discharge of children in care at the facility.

  1. These records shall be made available to the state department upon request.
  2. These records shall be maintained and stored in a confidential format.
  3. All information regarding children and their families shall be kept confidential.

In this case, Schoolhouse staff complied with the law and this policy by producing the records per DHS requests to turn over their records. Deputy District Attorney Joanne Morando then chose to release the incident report containing details of those records initially to the parents and then to the public. Our competitior’s choice to publish the lurid details contained within those reports unnecessarily exposed private and confidential information about children, parents, and caregivers. 

Second, the author uses the term “allegedly” several times in the article. This misrepresents the document’s authenticity and undermines the investigator’s status as an agent of the state to present an official report.

Per Ark Valley Voice’s own article analyzing the incident report, investigators found that certain written reports (factual evidence) “aligned” with their own investigation. There is nothing alleged about that. Furthermore, the author grossly misrepresented material facts contained in the incident report by stating, “Rodriguez allegedly received input from Chaffee County Early Childhood Council and a mental health consultant who advised her to report.”

It clearly states in the incident report that they confirmed Rodriguez contacted DHS, a Mental Health Consultant, and the Early Childhood Council several times.

This misrepresentation combined with an unnecessary exposure of confidential information undermines public trust in journalism, exacerbates an already tense situation, and adds to a media ecosystem rife with mis/disinformation. Moreover, it can create or add to potentially harmful media space for children.

According to an August 2021 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), children are particularly vulnerable to mis/disinformation and mis/disinformation increasingly leads to real-world consequences, many times involving violence.

Editor’s Note: Ark Valley Voice understands that there are other media sources alleging second-hand incident information and confusing timelines regarding this case, which we have not independently verified. Until and unless we do, we will not repeat them. Given the care necessary in handling confidential information regarding children, and the gravity of this case where lives and livelihoods are at stake, we would hope that the public reserves judgment for the court system.