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Illinois legislators suspend day care rules imposed by DCFS

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(The Center Square) – A bipartisan group of state lawmakers suspended some emergency rules for day cares they said posed a threat to the public interest and welfare.

The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted unanimously this week to suspend portions of day care licensing emergency standards filed by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. A resolution the bipartisan group approved suspended rules prohibiting assistants from supervising certain classrooms during certain times of the day.

Previous policies allowed day care center assistants to monitor rooms of children under 2 for up to 3 hours a day, rather than 90 minutes. The allowance was an emergency policy during COVID-19, but was never adopted in permanent rule despite day care providers’ request of DCFS.

“This rule imposes unreasonable and unnecessary economic costs on day care providers, many of whom have relied on this policy for the last three years and may be forced to curtail their hours or reduce their number of classrooms as a direct result of this emergency rule,” the resolution suspending the rule said. “JCAR finds these specified provisions of this emergency rule pose a threat to the public interest and welfare.”

Both Democrats and Republicans were critical of DCFS’s handling of the rule-making process, including draft rules being filed hours before JCAR met.

JCAR member state Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, questioned the enforcement of the rule.

“Part of the rule, and I’m just going to hope this is a scrivener’s error, talks about recommendations and you’re saying that people are going to be cited for something you recommend,” Tarver said. “And other parts are recommendations and it sounds like there are no other associated citations.”

DCFS officials acknowledged that’s an error and said they’ll correct that in the month ahead. DCFS Deputy Director of Licensing Shontée Blankenship stood by the rule because of hundreds of complaints they’ve fielded.

“These numbers clearly show that leaving an assistant alone without a qualified teacher is a safety concern that cannot be ignored,” Blankenship said.

Tarver requested more information on those complaints.

State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said such regulation is something that needs to be legislated, not done through emergency rule.

“I’m seeing departments go down a pathway that I feel through emergency rule … many of these departments are being given great latitude to make decisions that we need to go through the legislative process and the debate and more importantly the education,” Rezin said.

State Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, said the confusion has day care operators across the state “screaming” for people to do the job.

“What’s your solution other than denying them the ability to have the flexibility in order to do the kinds of things they need to do to keep their doors open,” Reick said.

DCFS officials said they continue to work on the issue with stakeholders. Reick said they’ve heard that before.

“I don’t think you folks belong in this business,” Reick said. “This is not part of your portfolio. Your portfolio is to protect the safety of children. Not to license day care centers.”

JCAR is expected to meet next month in Springfield.

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