JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hours after community leaders held a news conference announcing an agreement to reopen 16 Head Start facilities in Jacksonville, the Florida Department of Children and Families said it would allow the eight remaining centers to reopen for the rest of the school year.
Head Start is a program that provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition and parent involvement services to about 1,500 low-income children and their families.
A group of local, state and federal officials joined by pastors, civil rights leaders and parents pushed for the early-learning centers to stay open until June 7 -- the date originally planned -- after learning last week they would close early for remedial training for staff.
"That is a victory for the community. I am so proud of my community where it was the pastors coming together, state Sen. Tony Hill, children and family services, everybody came together and failure was not an option," U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown said at a news conference Monday morning announcing the agreement.
Earlier this month, the Community Development Institute, which took over the local Head Start program from the Urban League in April, sent a letter home to parents saying Head Start classes would end May 17 instead of June 7. It said there were safety issues that needed to be resolved and staff needed intensive training.
After negotiations with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that stretched into the weekend, an agreement was reached to reopen 16 of the 24 centers Wednesday for the rest of the school year.
"These children, come Wednesday morning, will be in this facility, and that's what I want parents to know," Brown said.
State Sen. Audrey Gibson says the reasoning by the temporary management company -- Community Development Institute -- to close the centers early was in error.
"The corporation that came in; they had no idea what this community was like. They made a snap decision because they created a staff shortage, and they wanted to get the kids out, and that was totally unacceptable," Gibson said.
Later Monday, the spokesman for the Florida Department of Children and Families -- the organization whose inspections found repeated violations that caused the federal government to order the takeover Head Start centers in Jacksonville -- announced that the remaining eight centers would also be allowed to stay open.
The head of DCF applauded the community coming together to save the last three weeks of school for at-risk children.
"'Even when we were in our darkest hour and we didn't think we'd get anything open, I knew we had leaders, faith-based organizations, to avert (the closings)," said the DCF Regional Managing Director David Abramowitz.
DCF says about 80 substitute teachers who work in Duval County schools will be used to staff the centers until the end of the year and that maintenance issues at the centers have been addressed.
"The child care facilities are very good," said Abramowitz.
Parents that was unhappy last week that the centers were closing early were pleased to hear they will reopen.
"It's education, it's a big help, especially with the kids. They need it all the time," said Ariane Welch.