By Amanda Sexton Ferguson and Tish Butts
The Winona Times
WINONA – Head Start and Early Head Start classes in Montgomery, Attala, Carroll, Choctaw, Holmes and Webster counties were temporarily suspended after the federal Office of Head Start suspended Central Mississippi Inc.’s oversight of the program last week.
On Nov. 17, parents received a letter from the Community Development Institute of Denver announcing it would serve as interim manager of the program.
According to the letter, “CDI HS will open centers as quickly as possible with minimal disruption of services. In order to do this, CDI HS is engaging in startup activities including: Staff hiring, obtain state licensing approval, ensure access to the facilities and critical vendors such as food service.”
According to a message accessed through a toll-free number noted in the letter, Head Start and Early Head Start classes were canceled Nov. 18. Parents were instructed to call back for further updates.
According to Patrick Fisher, public affairs specialist for the Office of Communications for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, a review of CMI by the Office of Head Start, in response to “numerous complaints” received by the federal agency, found “serious fiscal, governance and human resource issues.”
“These deficiencies threaten the health and safety of the children and staff, and pose a threat to the integrity of federal funds,” Fisher stated in an email. “As a result, we summarily suspended all federal financial assistance for Head Start programming to this grantee, for 30 days.
“We will conduct a follow-up review to validate CMI’s compliance with the Head Start Act and regulations. If the agency has corrected the deficiencies within the specified time frame, CMI will resume operating the program.”
According to Fisher, 1,075 Head Start children and 100 Early Head Start children in the six counties are affected by this summary suspension. In addition, 246 CMI employees are affected. He projected that classes would resume for Head Start and Early Head Start on Monday, “assuming the full cooperation of the community and CMI.”
“[The Office of Head Start] is committed to the communities in which a Head Start grant has been award, and strives to ensure services continue with minimal disruption to children and family,” Fisher said.
“In order to ensure this [the Office of Head Start] has deployed Community Development Institute Head Start as interim provider of Head Start services to the service areas served by CMI.”
Fisher said in 30 days, the Office of Head Start will conduct a follow-up review of CMI and if the deficiencies are corrected, CMI will resume operating the Head Start program once again. If the deficiencies have not been corrected, the Office of Head Start will terminate CMI’s Head Start designation.
“In that case, CDI HS will provide Head Start services until the formal competitive process for finding a replacement grantee can be completed, and a Head Start grant is awarded to a new agency,” said Fisher.
With Head Start and Early Head Start classes canceled and the program up in the air, parents were scrambling for answers and childcare while their children were out of school last week.
Rose McBride of Kilmichael was keeping her granddaughter, Khamya McBride, a student at the Duck Hill Head Start, until classes resumed.
“They wrote a note [Nov. 17] to let us know,” said Rose McBride of information that was given to parents and guardians when they picked up each student. “That was a very short notice.”
The mother of 3-year-old Khamya McBride, Sharecee McBride, is fortunate enough to have a mother who works part time and is able to care for the child on a regular basis. She would not have to miss work, Rose McBride said.
“I’m going to have to keep her today [Nov. 18],” said Rose McBride. “When I go to work, I’m going to have to find a babysitter. It’s going to be missed. It helped a lot of people.”
Calls to Central Mississippi Inc., which is headquartered in Winona, were not returned by last week’s press time, nor were calls to the Mississippi Head Start Association.