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Lawsuit Challenging D.C.’s Day Care Education Requirement Scores Win At Appeals Court

D.C. Circuit rejects trial court’s dismissal of the case, allowing lawsuit to move forward

WASHINGTON—Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit challenging a requirement that day care providers obtain a college degree before taking care of kids.

Ilumi Sanchez, a D.C. day care provider who has taken care of dozens of children since 1995, partnered with the Institute for Justice (IJ) along with a parent and another day care provider in 2018 to challenge the requirement, which would have put her out of work. The district court dismissed the lawsuit on procedural grounds, arguing that the requirement (which doesn’t take effect until 2023) had not hurt the plaintiffs just yet. Today’s ruling means that Ilumi’s challenge to the onerous requirement can continue to move forward.

“Today’s victory underscores that the District can’t avoid this lawsuit by moving the goalposts for compliance with its regulations,” said IJ Attorney Renée Flaherty. “The college requirement has already devastated the city’s day care providers and parents, and the district court will now have to consider this case on its merits rather than dismissing it on a procedural technicality.”

After Ilumi and IJ filed the lawsuit in 2018, regulators in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) extended compliance deadlines to December 2023 and allowed some home day care providers to apply for waivers if they had ten years of experience. But far from solving the problems posed by the college requirement, these changes only postponed the inevitable for the city’s hardworking day care providers who would never be able to comply with such a senseless and unnecessary requirement.

IJ and the plaintiffs pressed ahead with litigation because neither they nor any other day care provider should be at the mercy of waivers to an unconstitutional requirement. OSSE also argued that Ilumi and fellow day care provider and plaintiff Dale Sorcher no longer had standing to challenge the degree requirement, since Ilumi obtained an experience waiver and Dale could ask her employer to apply for a hardship waiver on her behalf.

The Court emphatically rejected these arguments as “unconvincing.” Judge Merrick B. Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that “[m]uch as OSSE may attempt to downplay its impact,” the college requirement has already harmed the city’s day care providers. The Court noted that OSSE’s arguments about waivers provided “cold comfort” to day care providers who must rely on the regulator’s mercy to grant waivers year after year and not to revoke them.

“Day care in the District is already the most expensive in the nation,” said parent and plaintiff Jill Homan. “The college requirement is making everything worse, without any benefit to be gained from it. The most important qualities in my children’s caregivers are love and patience, which aren’t learned in school. My family is relieved that this lawsuit can move forward on behalf of the District’s parents.”

“If government officials want to throw hard-working day care providers out of a job, they should expect to have to answer for that decision in court,” concluded IJ Senior Attorney Robert McNamara. “Today’s ruling means that they will have to do exactly that, and the Institute for Justice stands ready to ensure that our clients’ right to earn an honest living receives the full measure of respect it is due.”

The case now returns to the district court to decide the government’s motion to dismiss the legal claims on the merits.

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