Summer Programs in Georgia: Get Exempt or Get Licensed

by Taylor English Duma LLP
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If your organization is gearing up for a non-residential summer program in Georgia, remember to review childcare licensing requirements. If your program cares for children less than 24 hours a day, then it must be either licensed or exempted from licensing requirements. During the summer of 2017, we saw several injuries and one death at non-approved day camps. The Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) is carefully scrutinizing programs for children and aggressively enforcing licensing/exemption requirements.

Why It Matters:      

You cannot simply assume that your program does not need to comply with licensing rules. You must obtain an official determination from DECAL that the program is exempt. Forgetting that requirement can lead to fines or even prosecution for operating an unlicensed facility.

Who Is Exempt:

DECAL requires that “all programs providing group care for children” less than 24 hours a day must obtain either a childcare license or an exemption. Thus, residential camps are not affected. Day camps, tutoring programs, and sports programs, however, must deal with licensing/exemption requirements.

DECAL has a specific list of programs that quaify for exempt status, available at http://www.decal.ga.gov/CCS/Exemptions.aspx. Eligible programs include private schools, Parents’ Morning Out or Parent’s Night Out, day camps, classes in music, dance and sports classes, short-term care on the premises for customers (such as a health club or religious organizations), short-term educational or tutoring programs, and programs that charge no fee.

The rules for each category are different and can be very detailed. Day camps, for example, are limited to summer and school breaks, and no more than twelve (12) hours per day. Childcare for on-site customers, by contrast, is limited to four (4) hours each day and ten (10) hours each week. Parents Morning/Night Out programs can operate for no more than four (4) hours per day and eight (8) hours per week.

How to Apply:         

If your program is eligible for exemption, you must complete an application, available on the DECAL website listed above. The application must include copies of handouts, agreements, and other documents from your program, as well as the address of your website. The application must include:

(1) A notice that you give to parents stating that your program is not required to be licensed and does not have a license, and

(2) An agreement for the parents to sign stating that they have received the notice. Your signature on the application must be notarized. 

If you have had an exemption previously, but your program has changed locations, you must fill out a new application. You also must submit a new application if your program changes substantially, such as operating hours or ages of the children in the program. If you close the program earlier than the application stated, then you need to notify DECAL in writing within five (5) days.

DECAL will review the application and attached documents, and either approve the exemption, ask for more information, or deny the exemption. If DECAL denies the exemption, you can ask for an internal review of the denial. If DECAL continues to deny the exemption, it will require that you obtain a childcare license to continue to operate. Contesting that decision will be complicated, and you may need to consult an attorney about the best process.

What Happens Next:         

If DECAL approves an exemption for your program, it will send you an exemption approval letter and a public notice. Your program must post both the letter and the notice “in a prominent place near the front entrance.” If your program does not have liability insurance, then you must also notify the parents of that fact, and post a notice with the other documents.

During the program, you must maintain attendance records on each child and a copy of the parent’s acknowledgement of receiving the notice that the program is not licensed.  DECAL requires that your program keep these records for one (1) year after the child leaves.

Note that the DECAL exemption applies only to DECAL licensing rules. You still must have all of the permissions necessary from zoning boards, fire marshals, health departments, and any other relevant agency. You also need to follow industry standards such as conducting criminal back ground and abuse registry checks on all staff, following staff-student ratios appropriate in your industry, having safe and well-maintained equipment, having written policies about food allergies and communicable diseases, and requiring training on mandatory reporting responsibilities and CPR.

Don’t Panic:

If you need help with the application or have any questions about operations, DECAL has a team of people who are trained to assist with technical questions. Call Child Care Services at 404-657-5562, and ask for the Exemptions Unit, or email CCSExemptions@decal.ga.gov.

If you wish to start a program, begin with the DECAL website at http://decal.ga.gov/CCS/StartingACenter.aspx. There you can learn the basic requirements and obtain a licensing packet. If you have questions not covered in the licensing packet or on the website, you can call Child Care Services at 404-657-5562, or consult experienced colleagues or legal counsel.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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