Abuse allegations tied to agency losing funding for Harrison Co - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Abuse allegations tied to agency losing funding for Harrison Co Head Start

Head Start is scheduled to reopen January 5, but it's unclear if that will happen. (Photo source: WLOX News) Head Start is scheduled to reopen January 5, but it's unclear if that will happen. (Photo source: WLOX News)
HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

On Thursday, WLOX learned details of why the federal government has yanked the Head Start grant from the Gulf Coast Community Action Agency; a move that left teachers out of jobs and uncertainty hanging over the future of the preschool program.

The Administration for Children and Families Services pulled $9 million annual funding from the Gulf Coast Community Action Agency. The feds brought in a company to reorganize and run Head Start, and all teachers will have to apply to be rehired, and it's unclear whether all of the centers will reopen.

The developments come one year after allegations surfaced of physical abuse and corporal punishment at some Head Start centers. The agency was supposed to take corrective action, but the federal government decided it's too little, too late.

On Thursday morning, Harrison County Head Start employees gathered at the Isiah Fredericks Head Start Center, where they received letters letting them know their employment ends Friday and a new company will take over the program for six months. The move comes after allegations of physical abuse like spanking, hitting a child repeatedly with a ruler, dragging a child across the floor and dumping a child out of a cot.

In December 2014, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned it would pull the Head Start grant if the GCCAA did not make changes.

None of the Head Start teachers or GCCAA Board members would discuss the shake-up. WLOX spoke with two school leaders who believe in the Head Start mission to build the foundation for tiny tots. In 2013, the Biloxi School District collaborated with Head Start to start a preschool program on the Nichols campus.

"I do feel early education is important. Research shows that. So regardless of what's going on, I know they're going to work to make sure children's needs are met," said Biloxi Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Janice Johnson.

The superintendent in Pass Christian is also a big supporter of Head Start. The school district opened the first public kindergarten class in Mississippi back in the early 80s.

"I'm just hoping it gets worked out soon. Children need this. Children are hurting right now. If they are not in quality programs, it's really, really critical that we get this right this time," said Pass Christian Schools Superintendent Beth John.

Head Start is scheduled to reopen January 5, but it's unclear if that will happen. As for the teachers, they were told a job fair will be held where they can reapply to work for Head Start.

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