Operators of early childhood centers and the state Department of Education are embroiled in a battle on whether state officials should have access to cameras that help monitor the children.
The operators say no.
"This is what people need to know," Alan Young, legislative chairman for the influential Childcare Association of Louisiana, or CCAL, and the operator of a child care center in Shreveport said Monday.
"We put the systems in for us," Young said. "We didn't put them in for the parents. We didn't put them in for the state."
Gary Jones, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, has a different view.
"I can say that, if a child is involved and there is video footage, the state is perfectly within its rights," said Jones, who lives in Alexandria.
Sydni Dunn, a spokeswoman for the department, made a similar comment.
"It is critical for the department to have access to all records related to incidents in order to keep kids safe," Dunn said Tuesday in an email response to questions.
The issue pits advocates of public access – in this case care for toddlers and others – against operators of private firms who contend the department is guilty of state government overreach.
"CCAL believes that this is a violation of our members' privacy rights," according to association documents.
State Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, has asked for an attorney general's opinion on the dispute.
When such an opinion will be issued is unclear.
The state has around 1,500 licensed child care centers.
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The centers are not required to install cameras, and by one estimate only about 25 percent have them.
The dispute stems from a little noticed rules change approved by BESE in August. That modification, over the objections of child care operators, added recordings to the list of items available to state inspectors.
Cindy Bishop, executive director of the Childcare Association, said the August rule misses the point of the cameras.
Bishop said the cameras, in some cases, allow parents to see their children remotely.
In addition, she said, operators use them to help adjudicate disputes, including when a mom, dad or guardian levels accusations.
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Bishop said the cameras have limitations, including the lack of sound.
"This should not be part of the licensing inspection," she said. "There is too much room for misinterpretation when there is a video feed with no audio."
Critics also contend that, since the early learning centers are private, they are not covered by the state's open records law.
Young operates a center that can house 331 children.
He recently had a $16,000, 64-camera electronic video system installed to monitor activities.
"I am not a public entity," Young said. "I am private. That is private information for me."
Said Jones, "They may be private but they are taking public money. When they take public money, there are some obligations that go with that."
Jones also cited a case in September when the state Department of Education revoked the license of an early learning center in Orleans Parish. The department did so after a 3-year-old girl left the facility and was found hiding in the center's parking lot near a large truck.
In that case, Jones said, video footage could shed light on how operators responded to the toddler's disappearance.
Young said his video system recycles every 12 hours, which he said overrides the previous material, and that operators of other centers will opt for similar systems.
"Even if the state wants to see my data they will never see it," he said.
In her request for an attorney general's opinion, Mizell said owners of early childhood centers buy cameras to protect themselves from liability or to allow parent portals.
"As the cameras do not provide a panoramic view of the classroom or all the activities in the classroom, the limited view provided could be misleading," she wrote.
Any opinion by state Attorney General Jeff Landry would be advisory and not have the effect of law.