Head Start ordered by feds to turn over keys

By Lynn R. Parks

The Southern Delaware Center for Children and Families has been ordered to turn over to the federal government the keys to the Head Start facility in Bridgeville that the center operated until November. U.S. District Court Judge Kent C. Jordan, who issued the order last Wednesday, ordered the center to open the Laverty Lane Child Development Center and the center's Bridgeville administrative offices to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Community Development Institute (CDI). CDI has been hired by the federal government to temporarily resume the center's three Head Start operations in Milford, Bridgeville and Seaford. But as of Monday afternoon, CDI still did not have access to the Bridgeville building, according to Steve Barbour, spokesman for the federal Administration for Children and Families. The Laverty Lane site is owned by the Delaware Housing Authority. Judge Jordan also ordered Southern Delaware to turn over keys and titles to all pieces of equipment, including vehicles that were purchased with Head Start funds; to provide the federal government with an inventory of its equipment; and to give CDI and DHHS unrestricted access to records and personnel, "for the purpose of interview and discussion related to such documents." As of late Monday afternoon, CDI had not received the inventory of equipment or keys and titles for vehicles, Barbour said. CDI had been able to get into the Southern Delaware office and remove the children's records. "However, there were no personnel files at the administrative office," Barbour said. Judge Jordan's preliminary injunction order did not address the Seaford Head Start site on Front Street. That building is owned by the city of Seaford. City manager Dolores Slatcher said Monday that she and city solicitor James Fuqua are reviewing the lease for the Front Street building. The city's lease is with Community Action and Seaford Head Start; the Southern Delaware Center "inherited" the lease when it took over the site, Slatcher said. Slatcher said that she and Fuqua are trying to determine if the Southern Delaware Center is in breach of the requirements of the lease, signed in 1985. The lease's primary requirement is that the center operate a Head Start school in the facility. Slatcher said that the city council, which is required to vote on revoking the lease, will not address the issue until the Jan. 10 meeting, at the earliest.

The federal court injunction also did not address the Milford site, a modular building that was bought with federal funds. CDI is already operating classes for 66 children in that site. The Head Start centers were closed Nov. 2, when the Southern Delaware Center said that it had no money to keep them open. Two days later, on Nov. 4, the federal government terminated the center's license to operate Head Start schools, saying that it had not corrected all of the deficiencies discovered in an inspection in May. The Southern Delaware Center is appealing the termination. Director Carolyn Williams has said that she believes the center's troubles stem from a grudge held by its overseer in the administration's regional office in Philadelphia. Williams did not return a request for comment. Frank Ogundare, president of the Southern Delaware Center board of directors, also did not respond to a request for comment. Barbour with the Administration for Children and Families said that working through all the issues is slow going. "Meanwhile, there are children who are not getting the schooling they need," he said. The Southern Delaware Center had 322 students in its three sites, 196 of whom were under the federal Head Start program and 126 under the state program. The state expected to place those 126 children in other facilities by the start of the year. Sixty-six of the Head Start children are attending the CDI school set up in the Milford facility. But the Bridgeville and Seaford children have either found other preschools to attend or are waiting for CDI to get the Head Start operating in those towns again. Ziaire Ross, Seaford, was attending the Head Start school on Front Street. The 4-year-old's grandmother, Laverne Ross, said that she was able to find another placement for Ziaire, in a preschool near Concord. "Ziaire was out of school for about a week," Ross said. "We worked hard to find a place for her; she starts kindergarten next year and I want her to be ready for that. I didn't just want her sitting around home." Ross said that Ziaire is getting used to her new school. She anticipates that her granddaughter will stay there, even if another Head Start program opens before September. "All this moving around isn't good for a child," she said.

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