LA County Office of Education forced Kedren Head Start closure, says Waters

Maxine Waters speaking outside the LACOE meeting on Tuesday. | Stephanie Monte

Maxine Waters speaking outside the LACOE meeting on Tuesday. | Stephanie Monte

Congresswoman Maxine Waters demanded a federal investigation of the L.A. County Office of Education on Tuesday, saying the office strong-armed the CEO of Kedren Head Start to give up its contract and close about 30 centers.

Kedren serves roughly 2,200 children at Head Start facilities located in South Los Angeles communities including Watts.

Waters told families and press gathered outside the Board of Education meeting in Downey that LACOE forced the President of Kedren, John Griffith, to make a decision in less than two hours.

“What they do is intimate the directors of these delegate agencies,” said Waters. “They tell them if they don’t give up their contract, that somehow it’s going to be even worse off for the program.”

See also on Intersections: Children’s Institute to take over Kedren Head Start centers in South LA 

Head Start, an early education program for low-income families, is one of the most significant legacies of the “war on poverty” of the ’60s. However, it has consistently been threatened in low-income areas like South L.A., Waters told the crowd.

Kedren is one of many agencies operating Head Start programs for low-income preschoolers in L.A. County.

“The agency is supposed to be helping families that are low-income and cannot afford to pay for childhood education,” said Waters.

In response to her statement at the rally, LACOE’s public information officer Kostas Kalaitzidis distributed a statement saying Kedren relinquished its contract with the county in late January and new agencies are poised to take over Kedren Head Start services by the end of June.

A family protests the closing of Kedren. | Stephanie Monte

A family protests the closing of Kedren. | Stephanie Monte

The education office also said there have been numerous issues with Kedren during the last two years. Offenses ranged from minor violations, like missing light switch covers, to more serious problems, including allegations of inflating the number of children served.

Head Start programs give three-year-olds and four-year-olds the chance to get inside the classroom before kindergarten. They learn to sing the “ABCs,” count and draw. Most of the children at Kedren come from working class and low-income communities that don’t provide other childhood education opportunities.

Waters said LACOE is out of control for closing down a series of the Head Start centers. Instead of closing centers, she said, LACOE needs to ensure that they continue to exist.

Waters is urging Daniel Levinson from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to probe LACOE for any questionable techniques that led to Kedren’s closing.

Parents are concerned that LACOE is going to hire new agencies that don’t understand the mission and history of Kedren, which has served South L.A. for 49 years. Plus, they worry their children won’t be guaranteed spaces once the agencies takes over.

Josie Calderon, President of the Head Start Policy Committee, has one of her children enrolled at the Watts center and is working with other parents to keep Kedren open.

“Fight for the future of all our children,” said Calderon facing an audience of 50 families that had come to support Waters on Tuesday. “I consider these all of my children because I am a mother of Watts.”

Calderon said she was never notified about the deal to close Kedren, and under the Head Start Act, the community and the parents of children attending an agency’s program must take part in any major decisions.

Officials with LACOE said they are taking steps to protect the quality and integrity of the Head Start program and will cooperate with any investigation.

“Even though our issues with Kedren have been numerous over the last two years, including suspected fraud and child safety issues, we did accept their letter of separation as a delegate agency for our new grant,” said the department in a statement.

Parents and children, meanwhile, said they will stay hopeful, and they will keep trying to save their schools.

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