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Clarity needed on LA child care center cameras

If Louisiana wishes to use cameras as an enforcement tool in child care centers, it needs to clarify potential use of these.

In August, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which regulates these businesses, promulgated a rule that would allow inspectors to review video recordings. Nothing requires a licensed facility to have this equipment or that it include audio. Operators argue that their voluntary installation of such devices occurs primarily for their own employee oversight and as a selling point for client families, as parents can hook into video feeds to monitor their children. Perhaps only a quarter of all sites have cameras running.

According to the rule, inspectors have access to recordings whenever they visit during operating hours or the facility has children present, although no legal instrument defines how long centers archive these. Inspectors may show up without provocation.

Critics think video lacks context, especially without sound, and that government does not have the right under existing law to meddle in the private affairs of providers. Supporters, including BESE, say the data could reveal insights into reckless if not dangerous behavior impacting children. Because of the argument, state Sen. Beth Mizell has asked for an attorney general’s opinion of whether the regulation overreaches.

Accordingly, the issue begs for statute to address it. As camera setups can cost quite a bit, lawmakers should not mandate that these businesses have those; marketplace considerations such as whether the network would attract business from parents wishing to check in on their children should reign. However, if a provider chooses to have cameras, then a law specifying that these must archive for a week seems appropriate.

Further, inspectors should have access to these only when a valid complaint has come from parents, guardians, or employees about allegedly illegal behavior occurring on the premises, and not as a result of fishing expeditions. And the idea that the feeds, especially only video, could prove misleading places too little faith in investigators, or judges and juries, with their abilities to weigh that evidence relative to other information in evaluating a complaint.

Thus, the Legislature needs to step in and provide this framework on which BESE then may modify the rule. If operators don’t like it, they simply do not have to have cameras in their facilities.

This issue needs a proper balancing of looking out for the welfare of children and property rights. If providers choose a camera option, they surrender rights of privacy to an appropriately limited degree. Any arrangement that reasonably accommodates privacy rights which boosts the safety of children policy-makers must pursue.

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