As the owner or operator of a licensed childcare facility in Louisiana, you know first-hand how important your services are to the children and the families you serve. You also know that the state of Louisiana's Department of Education (DOE) has dozens of rules, regulations, and standards that apply to the operation of your facility. Just as there were many steps you needed to take and the information you needed to provide in order to earn your license, and if you want to keep it, you need to stay on top of even more requirements that apply on a daily basis. That's why if you learn that you are to be sanctioned by the DOE for any type of violation, you need to contact the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team. Our experienced attorneys can help you navigate the DOE's violations process and help you protect your rights. Call us at 888.535.3686 or use our online contact form to learn more about how we can help.
Categories of Childcare Facilities in Louisiana
Louisiana has several categories of childcare facilities that the DOE is responsible for licensing and monitoring. Licenses are required for the following types of child daycare facilities:
- Early Learning Centers. This term includes child daycare centers, early Head Start centers, Head Start centers, and Pre-K programs that are not part of a school.
- Pre-K programs operated by public grade schools, where the children attending have not yet turned 4 by September 30.
- Pre-K programs operated by private grade schools, where the children attending have not yet turned 3 by September 30.
Louisiana also registers “Family Child Care” providers, which are in-home child care providers that care for up to six children in the care provider's home. In addition, the state also registers “Home-Based Child Care Centers,” which can care for more than six children in the care provider's home. A license is not required for either of these types of in-home child care centers, but registration is required if the home care program is planning to accept child care payments from the state's Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). (Note that Louisiana is one of the few states that allows the unlicensed operation of home care centers caring for more than six children.)
There are also additional types of childcare facilities that are exempt from the DOE's license requirements. These include day schools for children in grades K and above, camps, facilities that provide day care “without charge,” day care centers operated for less than 24 hours per week by tax-exempt religious organizations, and programs operated by the state or federal government.
Early learning centers that are not exempt from licensing will have one of the following types of licenses:
- Type I License. This is issued to an early learning center operated by a qualified tax-exempt church or religious organization, provided the center receives no state or federal funding.
- Type II License. This is issued to an early learning center that receives no state or federal funding, except that the center may receive funds from the USDA's “food and nutrition programs.”
- Type III License. This is issued to an early learning center that does receive federal funds from any source except the federal food and nutrition programs. Most of Louisiana's early learning centers have a type III license.
Ways the State of Louisiana Can Sanction Childcare Providers
Early learning centers in Louisiana are inspected on a regular basis by the DOE, at least once a year, according to the Louisiana regulations. Inspections can also result from reports that an early learning center is being operated without a license or that a licensed center is violating a licensing law, regulation, or standard.
If an on-site inspection reveals one or more violations of the DOE's licensing laws, regulations, or standards, the DOE can take the following steps:
- Immediate Remediation. If the violation is “non-critical,” the center may be allowed to fix the problem immediately, provided the violation isn't one that threatens the “health, safety, or well-being of any child.” In such a case, the DOE will treat the immediate correction of the problem as “acceptable corrective action.”
- Written Warning. For certain violations that do not “pose an imminent threat” to the children at the center, the DOE may issue a written warning. The violations that may qualify for a written warning include those related to the following: child supervision, employee background checks, child-to-staff ratios, motor vehicle passenger checks, and failure to report critical incidents. The warning may include a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) that explains what actions the center must immediately take and will note that failure to do so can result in a fine or the revocation of the center's license.
- Second Written Warning. If a center fails to follow a CAP issued as part of a written warning, or if the DOE finds a second violation of the same standard within a 24-month period, it may issue another written warning that can include a requirement that the center take “additional corrective action,” and that may also include a fine of up to $250 per day for each day of the violation, up to a $2000 maximum in any 12-month period.
- Revocation or Non-Renewal. In cases where there are repeated failures by the center to meet the DOE's licensing rules, regulations, or standards, or for a variety of other reasons related to the operation of the center or the qualifications of the center's owner or staff, the DOE can revoke the center's license or refuse to renew it.
What Standards Does the State of Louisiana Expect Childcare Providers to Uphold?
Louisiana has a comprehensive set of non-mandatory standards that are designed to help guide early learning centers as well as others “who are responsible for the care and education of children from birth to age five.” These focus on areas such as:
- Learning and Development
- Language and Literacy Development
- Cognitive Development and General Knowledge
- Social-Emotional Development
In addition to these suggested best practices, the DOE has a separate set of required “Minimum Health, Safety, and Environment Requirements and Standards” that apply to early learning centers and that are part of the DOE's licensing regulations. These cover a wide range of health and safety requirements for centers, including:
- General Safety Requirements. These address the basics that centers are expected to have in place, such as a working phone line, appropriate lighting, an end-of-day check procedure, registration with the Louisiana State Police sex offender notification system, clean and well-secured equipment, effective sanitation procedures, and policies designed to ensure that dangerous materials, chemicals, drugs, and the like are not accessible to children.
- Physical Environment Requirements. These focus on making sure that the indoor and outdoor spaces that the children use while at the center are used exclusively by the children at the center and the center's staff and are kept free of hazards. Minimum square footage requirements per child apply to both indoor and outdoor spaces.
- Nighttime Care Requirements. There are special safety and supervision requirements for centers that care for children “after 9 p.m. and prior to 5 a.m.”
- Furnishings and Equipment. Care centers must follow specific guidelines for equipment and furnishings used at the center. These include requirements for eating practices, sleeping arrangements, bed coverings, and cribs. They also prohibit a number of items, such as infant walkers, toy chests or bins with lids, and trampolines.
- Safe Sleep Practices. The DOE has a detailed list of safe sleep practices that care facilities are expected to implement for infants in their care.
- General Care Requirements. These include prompt diaper changes, availability to help with toileting and toileting accidents, required daily written reports on infant food intake and other physical behaviors, requirements for handling and carrying children, and sanitation requirements.
- Health and Medicine Requirements. There are specific requirements for reporting injuries and for administering medicine on a regular and emergency basis.
- Food Service and Nutrition. Centers are expected to follow a comprehensive set of requirements for food preparation and nutrition, including having a weekly planned menu, addressing food allergies among the children in their care, and feeding requirements for younger children and infants.
- Emergency Preparedness and Evacuation Planning. The center must have procedures in place to respond to situations where the center may have to be evacuated, or for sheltering in the event of a sudden emergency situation such as a tornado or other severe weather.
- Background Check Requirements. Center employees and independent contractors, as well as anyone who volunteers at the center when children are present must complete a Childcare Criminal Background Check (CCCBC). The CCCBC is a fingerprint-based search that covers state and federal criminal, child abuse, and sex offender databases. The DOE must review and approve each CCCBC and must not allow anyone rejected by the DOE to work at the center. Staff members whose CCCBCs have been submitted to the DOE and have passed the Louisiana or federal criminal portion of the background check may work at the center on a provisional, supervised basis until the results of the CCCBC are complete, and the DOE has approved the staff member.
In some cases, such as with square footage requirements, it may be possible to secure a waiver from the DOE of specific childcare requirements. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you prepare and submit effective waiver requests that will help you avoid sanctions and expensive remediation costs.
Grounds for Childcare Provider Sanctions in Louisiana
Any violation of Louisiana's Early Learning Center Licensing Regulations can result in some form of sanction, which, as noted above, can range from a relatively minor immediate fix with no warning to written warnings to revocation of the center's license. Generally speaking, the focus of inspections and sanctions is on the health, safety, and well-being of the children being cared for at the center. The greater the likelihood that a violation could result in harm to a child, the more likely it will be that the center will receive a serious sanction.
Don't Assume the Truth Will Protect You From Sanctions in Louisiana
If you are facing a situation where your license is in danger of being revoked, your very natural first reaction might be to reach out to the DOE to explain “what really happened” or to give them “the rest of the story” in the hopes that this will quickly take care of the problem. Unfortunately, our experience at the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team is that this approach rarely works and can sometimes backfire. Licensing organizations such as the DOE have set procedures that are put in place to make sure they meet their responsibility to those that the license standards are meant to protect, and they rarely deviate from those procedures. That said, there are times during the sanctioning process when it can be useful to have an experienced attorney from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team communicate on your behalf with the DOE. Our attorneys can help you understand when that might be the case.
The Process for Sanctioning Childcare Providers in Louisiana
There are slightly different procedures in place for fines and for license revocations. In both cases, you'll receive a notice that the DOE intends to either issue a fine or revoke your license.
Notice of Assessment of Fine
- Reconsideration of a Fine. If you've received a notice that the DOE is issuing a fine against your facility, you can ask the DOE to reconsider that fine. You must notify the DOE within 10 days of our receipt of the “notice of assessment of fine” that you want them to reconsider it. You need to include the notice, provide any “new information” that you'd like the DOE to consider, and give the DOE “specific reasons” why the DOE should reconsider the fine.
- Appeal of a Fine. If your request for reconsideration is denied, you'll then have the chance to appeal that decision. Your appeal must be made to the DOE within 15 days of when you receive the notice that your reconsideration request has been denied by the DOE. The DOE will forward it to the Louisiana Division of Administrative Law (DAL), which will conduct the appeal within 10 days of receiving it from you. Your request for an appeal of the fine must include:
- A copy of the original “notice of assessment of fine”
- A copy of the DOE's decision denying your request for reconsideration
- The reasons why you believe the DOE's decision denying your request for reconsideration was mistaken
- Procedures on Appeal. Once the DAL receives your appeal from the DOE, it will schedule a hearing and provide you and the DOE with a notice. An administrative law judge (ALJ) will be assigned to the appeal. The appeal process is likely to include the following:
- Preliminary Conference. There will likely be a pre-hearing conference, usually by phone, at some point before the hearing. The purpose is to discuss the issues to be considered at the hearing and, often, whether there is a possibility to settle the matter.
- Settlement Discussions. There may be discussions between your attorney and the DOE's attorney to see whether there is any possibility of resolving the matter without a hearing.
- Hearing. The hearing may be by phone and will be similar to but a bit less formal than a regular trial court proceeding, though specific rules apply to how the hearing will be conducted. You and the DOE will have the chance to provide the ALJ with evidence and witness testimony, contest evidence offered by the other side, and cross-examine the other side's witnesses.
- Decision. The ALJ will issue a decision after the hearing, typically within 30 days of when it's completed. It will state the facts that the ALJ is relying on, the conclusions of the law that the ALJ is making based on those facts, and the final ruling.
- Rehearing or Further Appeal. Under certain circumstances, you may be entitled to ask the ALJ to reconsider the ruling or to appeal the ALJ's ruling to the appropriate Louisiana district court.
Notice of Revocation
If you receive a Notice of Revocation, you're required to post it “at each public entrance” within one business day of receipt. It must remain posted during any appeal of the revocation. You have 15 days to request an appeal and will be allowed to continue to operate during the appeal process. The exception to this is if the DOE determines that the “health, safety, or welfare” of the children in your care are “at risk due to continuing violations” and serves you with a notice of required immediate closure. While there is no appeal from an immediate closure notice, your appeal of the revocation will continue.
The appeal process for a notice of revocation is very similar to the process for appealing a fine. The DOE must notify the DAL of the appeal within 10 days of receiving your notice of appeal, and the DAL is required to hold the hearing within 30 days of receiving that notice. The ALJ must issue a decision within 15 days of the close of the appeal hearing.
What Happens if You Are Sanctioned by the State of Louisiana in Connection With Your Child Care Facility?
Assuming you comply with the conditions of any first or second written warning, you'll be able to continue to operate your early learning center while you work to fix the issues identified in the warning notice. If you receive a notice of termination and appeal it, you'll be able to continue to operate during the course of the appeal. If the ALJ rules against you in the appeal, you'll need to stop operating immediately.
If your license has been terminated, you must wait until at least 24 months after the termination has become effective and you've ceased to operate before you can apply for a new license. In addition to the usual licensing requirements, the DOE will also consider whether there are any unresolved issues that relate to your old license before it makes a determination about issuing a new license.
How the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team Can Help
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team has helped daycare all over the country protect their licenses and their livelihoods from unfair and improper sanctions. Our experienced attorneys understand the laws, procedures, and policies that apply to early learning centers in Louisiana and are ready to help you at any point if your license is threatened by a warning or notice of termination. We are ready to answer your questions and to help provide you with some peace of mind to help you through this difficult experience.
Whether your early learning center is in metro New Orleans, in one of Louisiana's other large cities such as Shreveport, Baton Rouge, or Lafayette, or in a smaller town such as New Iberia, Bogalusa, or Minden, you provide a vital service to your community, to the families whose children you look after, and to the children who you care for. You deserve every chance to protect your license so that you can continue to operate. That's why, as soon as you are notified that there is a serious issue with your license, you should call the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team for help. Our experienced attorneys will review your situation, advise you of the potential consequences and next steps, and will represent you and your early learning center at every stage of the licensing sanctions process.
Time limits can be short when it comes to termination notices and fines. Call us today at 888.535.3686 or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team is here to listen and to help!