A Pre-Schooler Pulled Down Another Kid’s Pants. Now The Adults in Charge are On Trial
Two Colorado child care workers will go on trial this June for presiding over a day care center where a 5-year-old pulled down a 3-year-old’s pants. Twice.
Amy Lovato and Roberta Rodriguez of The Schoolhouse day care center in Poncha Springs face criminal charges for not reporting this to the authorities quickly enough, and for putting the children in danger.
Let me state clearly here that I am not in favor of kids pulling down each other pants. (A boy on the playground lifted up my dress in first grade and I still remember it!) What I am in favor of is not turning a pre-school incident into, literally, a criminal case.
Nor am I in favor of wasting time and money on child endangerment cases that don’t really involve child endangerment. Let’s save our time and resources for kids in true danger.
The assumption of fragility.
Finally, I also don’t want to treat kids as if they have no capacity for resilience. Like I said: I remember my humiliation on the playground decades later. But a bad experience does not mean a bad life. Acting as if it does undermines our ability to give kids ANY independence, for fear that ANY disappointment, frustration, or humiliation means they will never recover.
(And finally finally, bureaucrats demanding that the rest of us observe the letter of the law with zero humanity or discretion? They drive me nuts. too. I guess a lot of things drive me nuts.)
Anyway, here’s what went down:
We are here because a pre-schooler acted like a pre-schooler.
“Let this fact not be obscured: We are here because one preschooler pulled down another preschooler’s pants,” Jason Flores-Williams, Lovato’s attorney, told 11th Judicial District Judge Brian Green last week, asking him to dismiss the charges.
The judge refused. “This is the perfect case for the jury to hear,” he told the courtroom packed with school parents who came to support Lovato and Rodriguez, according to The Colorado Sun.
The case against Lovato and Rodriguez seems to involve four charges. I say “seems to” because even the judge found the case so muddled that he instructed the prosecutors to present it more cogently.
The facts of the case:
No one disputes that on January 16, Lovato was filling in as a classroom teacher because the center was short-staffed. When one of the kids wet their pants, Lovato left the classroom for between 3 and 5 minutes to clean the kid and deposit the wet clothes in the laundry. When she returned, she saw the 5-year-old “crouched over” a 3-year-old who later told Lovato that the boy had tried to pull her pants down and touch her butt.
The next day, when Lovato went into the center’s bathroom, she found three kids there, including a girl with her pants down and the same boy. He was touching her butt.
The school sprang into action. It called the parents involved. It planned an all-school meeting on the topic of touching. Rodriguez called the Chaffee County Early Childhood Council to find out what else she should be doing. She reported the pants incidents to the child welfare department, and the kids-briefly-in-a-room-without-a-teacher incident to the state licensing office.
“Come get your kids!” Terrified parents raced over.
But as the toddlers themselves discovered, sometimes there is just no way to cover your butt. The authorities shut down the day care center midday on January 24, calling parents to immediately come pick up their kids. Terrified moms and dads raced over to find six armed deputies and a slew of cop cars.
“When they realized their children were safe, they wondered if they had been molested,” reported The Colorado Sun. “Neither the sheriff’s deputies or Chaffee County child welfare authorities who joined them in the raid…were providing information.”
It was only two days later, during a meeting at the sheriff’s office, that the parents learned what had happened.
The problem with mandatory reporting.
In summary, the potential wrongdoing seems to involve not reporting the incidents immediately enough—these were officially reported to the authorities about three days later—and leaving the kids unsupervised for the briefest of moments.
The defense attorneys argued that the question of how quickly a school’s mandatory reporters must report an incident of abuse is vague. So, it seems, is the definition of abuse. And so is whether leaving the room to clean off a pee-soaked kid constitutes neglect.
As an aside, I must mention that once I was at a conference of afterschool care providers, in California. Two women who worked at a program told me that their child-to-caregiver ratio is 1:11. Together they were in charge of 20 kids. So when one kid needed to go to the bathroom, one teacher would take eight other kids with her, to guarantee that the teacher in the classroom would not be out of the mandated 1:11 ratio compliance should a state inspector drop by.
When a system demands that kind of inflexible compliance, we are begging thinking, caring human beings to turn off their common sense.
A system that rewards waste & inhumanity.
“In some ways, this perfectly illustrates a system we set up that winds up leaving nothing but trauma and harm in its wake,’” says Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. “An awful lot of time has gone into this: The police had to investigate, child protective services investigated, there’s a trial that’s about to happen. All that time and money and effort is, in effect, stolen from finding the relatively few children in actual danger.”
He added that Colorado has a task force that is examining the whole question of mandatory reporting. “They should look very closely at this case.”
They sure should. It’s time to stop demanding that anyone who works with kids hew to exacting, abnormal, automaton standards, and pretending kids are in danger when they act like caring humans instead. – L.S.