Repeat Offenders: Common Laws Broken in Early Childhood Education

rules-made-to-be-broken

Hi my name is Jessica Castleberry and this is Early Education Plantation, a blog community providing resources, connectivity, and dialogue for those interested and invested in early childhood education.

Today I am taking a different approach to the blog and providing a podcast in addition to the weekly article.  I can appreciate that it can be easier to listen to a podcast while you’re multitasking than to sit and read. For those who are reading, be prepared for a much more conversational tone to this article.

For the podcast, click here ( http://jessicacastleberry1.homestead.com/Podcast–Repeat-Offenders.html?_=1484063797412 )

Or read on:

I want to delve into a couple of laws I’ve seen repeatedly broken, one: price fixing, courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission, and the other, overtime rules, from the Department of Labor.  After that I just want to touch on two of our child care services licensing laws: ratios, and then the importance of checking IDs.

Let’s start with price fixing.   I have received calls over the years from other directors in our area calling me to ask what our rates are.  You can’t do this guys!  The simple act of calling another center, identifying yourself as a director and asking me (another director) for our rates is breaking a Federal Trade Law and could be viewed as price fixing. Merriam Webster defines price fixing as the usually illegal act or practice of agreeing with business competitors to set prices at a level instead of allowing prices to be determined by competition.  I’m not saying that the directors calling me have been trying to start a child care crime syndicate, and think that we can all raise our rates to an insane level that parents can’t pay.  In our industry, it is illegal even to ask me, because it implies that a conversation might take place to agree to raise rates.  Due process for competition would be to do your research.  Look at competitor’s websites, read a handbook, or call if you have to, just don’t identify your position because it is breaking the law.  There’s also a great resource in the state of South Dakota, it’s called the Market Rate Survey sent out by the Department of Social Services every two years.  This is filled with information on what many centers charge for full time and part time tuition, what benefits and wage they offer employees, and it’s broken down by county.  Great information, all in one spot, and it’s totally legal to obtain. There is a new Market Rate Survey coming out in May of 2017, however I have included the link for the 2015 Survey at the end of the article.

Moving on to another big offender, overtime rules for staff.  This can become a problem for early childhood educators due to meeting teacher to student ratios, staff absences, trying to fill open positions, if the center doesn’t have limits on how long children can attend the program per day, or if there are families who are perpetually late for pick up.   The federal requirement to be eligible to be a salaried employee is a wage of at least $455 per week, the employee must be paid a predetermined and fixed salary that is not subject to reduction because of variations in the quality or quantity of work performed, and the employee’s job duties must primarily involve executive, administrative, or professional duties as defined by the regulations. I’ve heard horror stories time and again of young ladies working ten hour days, five days a week because the center was short-handed, and not being reimbursed at an overtime rate.  Our workforce needs to be developed, but that also includes more information and education on their worker’s rights.  Hopefully you are aware of the hub-bub in the media regarding the Department of Labor’s attempt to change the requirements for overtime rules.  The rate for salaried workers was slated to rise in December of 2016 from $455 a week to $970 a week. That decision has been postponed by a preliminary injunction for now, however the Department of Labor is in the process of appealing and that preliminary injunction.  Directors and owners need to know we cannot ask our employees who are making less than $455 per week in a non-administrative position to work more than forty hours per week without overtime pay, and our employees need to know that too.

There are special challenges in this industry because of the types of licensing laws that are state mandated.  Anyone who has a stake in early childhood education should be aware of what these guidelines are. This extends beyond the directors, teachers, and support personnel.  Parents, grandparents and truly the community at large would benefit from being aware of state standards and how we measure up to the rest of the nation.  I’ve included a link below for anyone interested in perusing our South Dakota state guidelines, which if you’re not familiar, cover everything from structural requirements, to water temperature, to training for staff.  It is an interesting read I think too, for anyone who has ever heard from an in-home daycare that they don’t want to become registered because it is “too difficult,” or the rules are too stringent.  Rather than accepting this response, parents who are considering an unregistered versus a registered daycare should see the guidelines for themselves and make that judgement call.  It can also create dialogue with an unregistered provider as to the specific guidelines their in-home daycare doesn’t meet.

In early childhood education, there are certain requirements that facilities must be staffed to meet student to teacher ratios.  It is vitally important to meet these ratios to ensure the quality of experience for students and staff.  A center may struggle to meet these ratios for many of the same reasons mentioned with the potential for overtime. Staff absences, trying to fill an open position, lack of substitutes, or if the center doesn’t have limits on how long children can attend the program per day all contribute to a risk for being over-ratio.  In South Dakota, our student to teacher ratio varies by age.  For zero to two years old, it’s one teacher- five students.  For three to five years old, it’s one teacher- ten students.  For ages six to twelve, it is one teacher- fifteen students.  When a parent walks into a center and sees ten two year olds with one teacher, they should be alarmed.  When an assistant instructor is new to teaching and they are asked to run a circle time for twenty minutes with twenty children while their lead teacher makes a personal phone call, that is wrong.  All employees are supposed to read the state standards, but in many cases the standards aren’t reviewed with them, or the employee is afraid that they will lose their position if they say anything to a supervisor.

I heard a story the other day from someone who went to pick up her newly adopted grandchild from preschool for the first time. Her story described a large, well-reputed center in our area.  When she entered the classroom, she called out to her grandson who came to her.  The teachers greeted her.  When she turned to sign her grandson out, she realized her grandchild’s last name had not been legally changed yet and she couldn’t remember how to spell it.  It was ONLY at this moment that the instructors asked to see her ID and check it against their approved pick up list.  This is a huge error, one that is too frequent among child care staff.  The state mandates that IDs must be checked the first time an alternate pick up occurs, but regardless it is the best practice to help ensure that our students are taken safely from our care.

I think that it is vital for the progression of early childhood education in our state to accept that these problems are not, about “this center,” or “that center.”  These issues are not about “in-home,” versus “school district,” versus “centers.” These problems are within our workforce, they are within the lack of professionalism in our management, and at the very core of how we are operating our facilities as a community.  These problems are stemming from disinterest in the quality of care and education in our state from our community at large.  Early childhood education can’t be only a day-time place holder for our children which we give little or no thought to.  It is important to advocate for change, because of what we can become, and how we can achieve for our youngest community members.

Thank you for tuning in to Early Education Plantation and as always, remember to comment, connect, and cultivate change!

More information on licensing requirements: http://dss.sd.gov/childcare/licensing/

More information on the 2015 Market Rate Survey: http://dss.sd.gov/docs/childcare/final_report.pdf

 

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