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State Senator Gibson: 'Head Start Should Not End School Year Early'

The Florida Senate

The decision by an outside management company to shut down local Head Start programs this Friday has parents of nearly 1,500 kids scrambling to make other childcare arrangements.


State Senator Audrey Gibson says that company, Denver-based Community Development Institute, should not end the school year early. Gibson says she met with local and national Urban League representatives and local ministers about her concern for parents, who expected the program to run through the first week of June and found out yesterday that Friday, May 17th will be the last day for many kids.


Head Start.jpg
Credit Karen Feagins
The Northeast Springfield Head Start on 16th Street.

"Obviously making arrangements not only includes time, it includes cost, she said." And many if not all of the participants in a Head Start program are minimal income families, and so what are their options?" said Gibson.

The Head Start and Early Head Start programs were run by the Jacksonville Urban League until April when the Federal Head Start office brought in Community Development Institute to take over due to safety violations.

CDI told parents Monday that in order to protect the children, they need to hire more staff and provide additional training. Their letter to parents explained they're closing for the summer 3 weeks early and only children under 3 and those in the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program will be allowed to finish out the school year.


Octavia Smith’s 4-year-old daughter attends the Northeast Springfield Head Start. Smith said she is desperately trying to find childcare for next week. “I love the program, her teachers are great, she said. "The only thing is all of the sudden, it’s really affecting me. I have to figure out what to do with my child as far as after the 17th."




Senator Gibson says the Urban League has addressed many of the safety concerns and says CDI should have had the capacity to keep the program running for the entire school year. Erick Dittus, a spokesman for Jacksonville Urban League, says he thinks finances are a part of the reason the school year was cut short. He says the Urban League had been asked to cut 5% of its budget and he feels CDI made its decision as a response, in part, to the budget situation.


Local ministers are upset about parents having to find childcare on short notice and plan to hold a news conference Wednesday morning. Darien Bolden from the First Missionary Baptist Church in Fernandina Beach says he also has a greater concern. He feels the Federal decision to suspend the Urban League's management of Head Start disenfranchises Jacksonville’s African American community.


“You take a program like that away from our community," he said, "you’re taking 16 million dollars away from our community. There are also 400 employees there, some of them, most of them will probably be out of work.”


No one from the Community Development Institute or Federal Head Start responded to requests for interviews for this story. 


*This story was updated at 6:30 pm to reflect new information from Urban League spokesman Erick Dittus. Changes include the number of students affected by the Head Start closure and the response from Dittus. The story was also changed to reflect that the ministers and not the Jacksonville Urban League are hosting Wednesday's news conference.



Karen found her home in public broadcasting after working for several years as a commercial television reporter. She joinedWJCTin 2005 as the host of 89.9 FM’s Morning Edition and has held many different roles at the station in both radio and television. She has written and produced documentaries includingBeluthahatchee: The Legacy of Stetson Kennedy and Jacksonville Beach: Against the Tide and directed the oral history project, Voices of the First Coast.