Two high-ranking House education committee members are demanding to know why New York City’s Head Start grant was not suspended or revoked by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, after inspections in December raised wide-ranging concerns about child safety.
The inspection report included a number of allegations of abuse or neglect of children at centers overseen by the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, which enrolls about 13,000 children. In one example, an employee at one center was alleged to have hit a 3-year-old with a belt. The employee was assigned to clerical duties temporarily, and returned to the classroom about two weeks later.
At another center, a teacher on two separate occasions was alleged to have told a 3-year-old to hit or kick another 3-year-old, the report said. At yet another center, two teachers were alleged to have gotten into a physical altercation with each other. At a different center, a child was left behind in a classroom for an hour while other children went to a playground, the report alleged.
Other parts of the inspection report catalogued rodent droppings in food preparation areas and on toys and cots, and playgrounds with hazardous equipment.
U.S. Reps. John Kline of Minnesota and Todd Rokita of Indiana, both Republicans, raised concerns about what they see as a slack response from HHS in an April 10 letter to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Mr. Kline is the chairman of the House education committee; Mr. Rokita oversees the subcommittee on early childhood.
The decision to allow New York City to continue to receive Head Start money “appears to represent a divergent path from other decisions regarding safety concerns from centers,” they wrote in their letter. The congressmen asked what criteria would prompt an immediate revocation or suspension of funds.
In response to an inquiry from Education Week about the lawmakers’ letter, a spokesperson for the Administration for Children and Families—the federal office within HHS that oversees Head Start—said “we do not believe that any single violation posed an immediate threat to a child’s safety such that it would warrant the substantial disruption to children and families that would have resulted from an immediate shutdown, particularly when we believe the city has already begun taking steps to correct them.”
Federal inspectors have continued to monitor the city, the agency said.
The New York City agency, a Head Start “super-grantee,” receives more than $130 million from the Office of Head Start. The administration contracts with close to 200 “delegate agencies,” which are charged with providing preschool and health services to city children from low-income families.
Jill Krauss, a spokeswoman for the New York City agency, said that many of the deficiencies that were brought up in the inspection report were handled immediately. Employees have been fired, and the city is working closely with the Office of Head Start to correct the other problems. Revoking funding “is a pretty nuclear response,” she said.
The inspection gave the New York City agency different timelines to fix certain problems. Eighteen problems that required an immediate fix have been resolved, Ms. Krauss said, as well as 28 violations that needed to be resolved by the end of March. Eighty-six of 102 citations that needed to be fixed by the end of April have already been addressed, and the city is on track to meet the summer deadline to resolve a last set of 64 violations.
The lawmakers’ letter outlined other cases where Head Start grants have been revoked or suspended. In such cases, Head Start hires a contractor to provide management so that services can continue. A Head Start grantee in Hattiesburg, Miss., lost its grant in 2014 after an employee was accused of sexually abusing a child. News reports said that the Head Start director did not report the accusation for more than two years.
In another recent case, the Urban League in Jackonsville, Fla., lost its Head Start grant in 2013. Among the concerns in that case was a 3-year old left unsupervised on a bus from around 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Head Start centers are going through a review process which, for the first time, requires grantees to compete for continued funding.
New York City was among the Head Start recipients singled out for competition in the first round, which was held in 2011. The city agency retained much of its grant, but some of its delegate agencies became direct recipients of Head Start funds.
A version of this article appeared in the April 22, 2015 edition of Education Week as Head Start in N.Y.C. Gets Called on Carpet