’Pandemic Pod’ organizers could face penalties if they operate without SC childcare license

VIDEO: 'Pandemic Pod’ organizers could face penalties if they operate without SC childcare license

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Some parents are considering what’s called “Pandemic Pods” for their children who won’t be returning to the traditional classroom setting next month. However, the state’s agency over child health and safety said pod operators could get in trouble if they’re running one of these learning groups without a license.

Pandemic pods are small groups of students gathered in a home. The learning group is run by an adult who can care for the children and help them with their virtual lessons, and businesses like My Online Study Group are offering teachers for support.

“If they do go back to school, there’s a lot of kids in that school, so in this small group environment you’re limiting the exposure,” My Online Study Group Founder Kirk Lindgren said. “We’ll provide a teacher to that group that can guide them through their virtual learning. They’re still enrolled in their regular schools. They’re still zooming with their regular teachers, but we can provide a professional that can help these students when they run into problems.”

However, with just weeks until the next school year starts, the learning groups are facing a legal hurdle many of them did not anticipate.

The South Carolina Department of Social Services says pod operators need a family child care home license because they are considered in-home daycare centers, according to state law.

“We are kind of in a perfect storm, where the department of education and local school districts did not release their plans until later on and it’s left parents scrambling, but at the end of the day this has been on the books as a law in South Carolina for quite some time,” DSS’s Connelly-Anne Ragley said.

If a learning pod is caught operating without notifying the state, organizers could face penalties.

“If we realize there is a family home operating that does not have the proper paperwork on file whether it’s a registered or licensed home, they will receive a letter, first and foremost, from the department to cease operating because they will be operating without a proper registration or a license,” Ragley said. “If the operation continues without the registration or license, an injunction could move forward from the department.”

According to state law, pod operators can only care for up to six children, including their own. However, local zoning regulations could limit that number further. The department relies on reports from the community to enforce these restrictions.

“We want to make sure whoever is caring for your children is a responsible adult, and if you’re choosing to have someone care for your child that’s not related to you or some body that’s an associate, you really make sure you’re looking at their background, to make sure health and safety is the primary objective,” Ragley said.

However, some argue the coronavirus pandemic has created a situation that current state law doesn’t address.

“That law was written before we ever understood really what we are getting into here with COVID. There are families that don’t want to expose their children to this disease,” Lindgren said. “We need to evolve with the situation and ensure we are able to provide the best service we can to these families.”

Lindgren said he is working with DSS to move forward.

“The problem with the regulations, these are middle class families that don’t make a lot of money and they have a short-term problem,” Lindgren said. We are trying to come up with a creative solution to that difficult situation. If we can find a way to legally push this through and ensure these families have the opportunity to do what’s best for their children, then I think that’s important.”

For information on how to register and apply for a family child care home license, click here.Some parents are considering what’s called “Pandemic Pods” for their children who won’t be returning to the traditional classroom setting next month. However, the state’s agency over child health and safety said pod operators could get in trouble if they’re running one of these learning groups without a license.

Pandemic pods are small groups of students gathered in a home. The learning group is run by an adult who can care for the children and help them with their virtual lessons, and businesses like My Online Study Group are offering teachers for support.

“If they do go back to school, there’s a lot of kids in that school, so in this small group environment you’re limiting the exposure,” My Online Study Group Founder Kirk Lindgren said. “We’ll provide a teacher to that group that can guide them through their virtual learning. They’re still enrolled in their regular schools. They’re still zooming with their regular teachers, but we can provide a professional that can help these students when they run into problems.”

However, with just weeks until the next school year starts, the learning groups are facing a legal hurdle many of them did not anticipate.

The South Carolina Department of Social Services says pod operators need a family child care home license because they are considered in-home daycare centers, according to state law.

“We are kind of in a perfect storm, where the department of education and local school districts did not release their plans until later on and it’s left parents scrambling, but at the end of the day this has been on the books as a law in South Carolina for quite some time,” DSS’s Connelly-Anne Ragley said.

If a learning pod is caught operating without notifying the state, organizers could face penalties.

“If we realize there is a family home operating that does not have the proper paperwork on file whether it’s a registered or licensed home, they will receive a letter, first and foremost, from the department to cease operating because they will be operating without a proper registration or a license,” Ragley said. “If the operation continues without the registration or license, an injunction could move forward from the department.”

According to state law, pod operators can only care for up to six children, including their own. However, local zoning regulations could limit that number further. The department relies on reports from the community to enforce these restrictions.

“We want to make sure whoever is caring for your children is a responsible adult, and if you’re choosing to have someone care for your child that’s not related to you or some body that’s an associate, you really make sure you’re looking at their background, to make sure health and safety is the primary objective,” Ragley said.

However, some argue the coronavirus pandemic has created a situation that current state law doesn’t address.

“That law was written before we ever understood really what we are getting into here with COVID. There are families that don’t want to expose their children to this disease,” Lindgren said. “We need to evolve with the situation and ensure we are able to provide the best service we can to these families.”

Lindgren said he is working with DSS to move forward.

“The problem with the regulations, these are middle class families that don’t make a lot of money and they have a short-term problem,” Lindgren said. We are trying to come up with a creative solution to that difficult situation. If we can find a way to legally push this through and ensure these families have the opportunity to do what’s best for their children, then I think that’s important.”

For information on how to register and apply for a family child care home license, click here.

VIDEO: ’Pandemic Pod’ organizers could face penalties if they operate without SC childcare license

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