Parents complain of Head Start program

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Concerned parents have been complaining about Duval County's Head Start program, a federally funded early childhood program for low-income families.

This year the program will serve more than 1,700 kids ages 5 and younger.

Lutheran Services Florida has taken over the program. And with school starting in less than a month, some parents say they don't know if their children will have a classroom to go to.

"I have three weeks left and I started looking because I don't know if my daughter will have somewhere to go," Mary Staton said.

Many families have the same concerns right now, just a couple months after LSF took over the program.

"I haven't gotten a letter from Lutheran, I didn't get anything saying, 'Hi, mom, welcome to the program. We're not the Head Start program directors. Our contact information is.' Everything I found out on Google," Staton said.

She said she's had numerous failed attempts to contact Head Start.

"Lutheran, the first number -- full, voicemail full, voicemail full, and then you'll see that even when I called the out-of-state number, voicemail full," Staton said. "So there is no one you can talk to."

After being put on hold, News4Jax was able to talk to a rep but didn't get many answers.

"You'll be getting something in the mail with your status," the representative said, adding that a date was not known.

Staton said she's applied six times this year to get her daughter into the Head Start program at the Normandy location, but that location has since been closed. Now her daughter has to attend the Jacksonville Heights location, another inconvenience.

"For the $18 million plus the incentive program, you got $23 million, you can't get a packet of papers and stamps to send out a letter?" Staton said.

"There will be some bumps, and that's to be expected, especially with a transitioning program," Head Start executive director Nachol Guyton said. "But I'm really working towards that. We provide those quality services that are mandated by law."

Guyton said by federal mandate, her staff is working to get the qualified returning students enrolled first, then will work on the qualified new students.

"We do send out letters. This is standard practice," Guyton said. "I'm sure the staff, with it being so close to Aug. 18, that they will make phone calls as well. We want to get the rosters into the teachers' hands before the first day of school."

Guyton couldn't say exactly when all of the parents would be notified about the Head Start enrollment status, but said all of the kids will be enrolled this year. She said a parent orientation will be scheduled sometime next week.

"We want to make sure the children of Jacksonville, Duval get what they deserve," Guyton said.

She said she has staff members monitoring the main number every hour and are told to contact the parents within 24 hours. The program's number is 904-572-5560.

This year, LSF has made Head Start a full-day program as opposed to a half-day program provided last year. Head Start will also begin a full-year program this year.

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