Early Head Start program to end at Rhoda Martin Learning Center

Some parents concerned about their children's future


JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Parents of children who are part of a Early Head Start program at Rhoda Martin Learning Center are demanding answers after finding out the program is going away.

Amy Petit and Michel Martinez drop their children off to the Rhoda Martin Learning Center in Jacksonville Beach every day.

"This is family, not just a regular school. This is family," Petit said.

Now, Petit and Martinez are afraid their school family could be broken up after learning Lutheran Services Florida, the agency that had partnered with Head Start and Early Head Start for five years, will end its early Head Start partnership on July 25.

A spokesperson for Lutheran Services Florida said the agency put in a bid for Early Head Start services in Duval County, but recently learned it would only get to negotiate a contract for regular Head Start services. The program helps children of low-income families.

The spokesperson said the agency serves more than 300 Early Head Start students in Duval County. News4Jax found at least nine Early Head Start schools on Lutheran Services Florida's list.

Lutheran Services Florida said it'll be working closely with a new agency to ensure a smooth transition for children at Rhoda Martin Learning Center and other schools in the city. A statement from the agency read in part:

"We are saddened by this decision and remain passionate about preparing children for school and helping to close the achievement gap."

"Without this, these parents are going to struggle even more, something has to change, it can’t be shutdown," Petit said.

No one answered the door at Rhoda Martin Learning Center on Friday afternoon. A request for comment from Head Start's corporate office in Washington was not immediately returned Friday.