A local congresswoman Tuesday called for a federal investigation into the Los Angeles County Office of Education because of events that could lead to the closure of Kedren Head-Start centers across the county.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) protested outside the county Board of Education meeting in Downey with a few dozen Kedren staff members and parents clutching signs and their children who attend those preschool centers.
FOR THE RECORD:
Head Start: An article in the March 19 LATExtra section about the possible closure of Kedren Head-Start early-preschool centers in Los Angeles County said that Kedren had served 727 children in Watts and that 775 of Kedren's slots could be reallocated to the Children's Institute Inc., which the story referred to as a reduced number. The 775 slots would be divided among six areas, including Watts.
The county education office's "responsibility is to not close down Head Start, but to help sustain them," Waters said, adding that she refuses to see another federally funded preschool program closed in South L.A.
A statement by the county education office said officials would cooperate if a federal investigation occurs.
Waters' call for a federal probe comes after a March 6 protest by the same Kedren supporters. Kedren pulled out of its Head Start contract with the county on Jan. 21; centers are slated to close in June.
Phone calls to Kedren Head-Start weren't returned Tuesday.
Kedren's move surprised its policy council, made up of parent delegates from each of nearly 30 centers across the county. The council is typically consulted on all Kedren decision-making, parents said.
"Not once was the policy council involved," said Josie Calderon, the council's president. "We found out about the contract's relinquishment after the fact."
Waters, parents and Kedren teachers want to know what prompted Kedren to pull out of its contract.
The county education office said issues with Kedren have been numerous during the last two years, including centers found to be out of compliance in inspection codes. The statement did not say why Kedren terminated its contract on short notice.
Since Kedren pulled out of its contract, the education office has announced plans to redistribute preschool slots to four other organizations. One of those, The Children's Institute Inc., could be allotted 775 slots in such areas as Chesterfield Square, Harvard Park and Watts, according to county board staff. Currently, Kedren serves 727 in Watts.
The reduced number of seats in Watts worries parents like Marlean Gordon. She's seen her 4-year-old son Knowledge Hubbard interact more with other children since he began attending Kedren Watts III. She and Knowledge's father, Steven Hubbard Sr., walk their son to and from the center, which is less than half a mile from their Jordan Downs home.
They are concerned that Knowledge will be assigned to a preschool in what they consider an unsafe area. Other parents expressed similar worries.
"I don't want to cross into [gang] territory where I'm questioned about where I'm going to get my son his education," Hubbard said.
Waters, a product of Head Start preschool, said the program was a vital educational tool that had kept many low-income children from crime or gang activity. She said Kedren and other Head Start programs, such as the Los Angeles Urban League's and the Federation of Preschool and Early Education Center's, have left the county in past years. Tabatha Gilmore, a center manager for Kedren, said she worked for the Urban League and the Federation before their contracts ended with the county. Gilmore said she's unsure if she'll have a job once Kedren's contract ends in June.
Gayle Tolbert-Myles, a lead teacher at Kedren Westlake III, said she's already reviewing forms to claim her pension. She said she works with predominantly Latino children and helps them with their English. She doesn't know if her work will be in vain if the Westlake center closes.
"Are we losing slots when they close down Head Start programs? Yes," Waters said. "Why can't we maintain Kedren in Watts?"
Parents clapped while chanting "Save Kedren!" during Waters' news conference. Then they formed a line behind Waters, who repeated her words to the county Board of Education.