New information details "deplorable conditions" at Jacksonville’s Head Start facilities, showing that the problems facing the Jacksonville Urban League may be more extensive than first thought.
A letter from Jeffrey Fredericks, Regional Program Manager of Head Start, sent three weeks ago to the Jacksonville Urban League and obtained by WJCT this week, explains the series of events that caused the Federal government to suspend JUL's contract suddenly this April and later uphold that suspension.
Federal Office of Head Start found what they said "posed serious risk to the safety of children" at many Urban League Head Start centers which included, “mold, rat and insect infestations and raw sewage near the buildings” in addition to reports of "repeatedly leaving children unattended."
The Jacksonville Urban League has appealed its indefinite suspension, saying there was no emergency in April 2013 when the Federal government stepped in. They’re appealing on the grounds that they weren’t given any formal notice or a chance to answer allegations about safety concerns at their preschools.
Jacksonville Urban League’s attorney Earl Johnson, Jr. did not return phone calls from WJCT today, but did speak just days ago at a press conference.
“I’m certain that they will allege some kind of emergency," he said. "But what’s clear is the allegations set forth in the suspension letter most all involved situations that occurred in the previous calendar year-- all of which had been handled, and, as we were told, to their satisfaction.”
The Federal Office of head start said in the letter, “JUL’s inability to supervise small children was an emergency.”
Federal Head Start regulations state that a suspension can be authorized without prior notice "when OHS determines that there is serious risk that staff or participants' health and safety are at risk."
The letter goes on to say that Florida's Department of Children and Families was about to shut down the Urban League’s Northeast Springfield Center because of several citations in 2012 and 2013. It also identifies multiple incidents at different centers in which very young children were left unattended or allowed to leave with unauthorized adults.
The letter states that when the Federal Head Start Office inquired about an incident involving a child left unattended March 2013, they received information about three incidents of unattended children.
When the Federal Head Start Office put Community Development Institute following the suspension, the letter says they discovered even more problems with the conditions at the facilities and the way employees were trained.
According to the letter the current Jacksonville Urban League facilities need an estimated $1.3 million in repairs to make them safe after finding, "entry points for rats, roof leaks, roach and fire ant infestations, mold on interior and exterior walls, peeling pain, several years' worth of dirt on floors and windows and many other problems."
Head Start is a federal program that helps children from low-income families get ready for school. The Urban League has run Jacksonville’s Head Start Program for the last seventeen years.
It’s not clear who will run Jacksonville’s Head Start programs next school year.
Duval County Public Schools and Episcopal Children’s Services have both expressed interest in applying for the $15 million Federal grant.
You can read the full letter below.