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'Bogus' Violation Reports Plague Head Start Programs

Unraked leaves cited as 'choking hazard' and other 'bizarre' violations

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Dateline: April 2005

Head Start programs across the nation are being found out of compliance with federal regulations under a wide range of citations called "subjective and even bizarre" by officials of the National Head Start Association (NHSA).

Among the so called "parking tickets" issued against Head Start programs are citations that include flashlights with dead batteries, toaster oven crumbs claimed to pose a fire hazard, unraked playground leaves described as a “choking hazard” and even a toddler’s lunch money trumped up into a fiscal management complaint, according to NHSA.

In a recent press statement, NHSA listed more than a dozen such non-compliance findings that are, in a break with the past, now being handed out routinely by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) review teams that have been instructed to find problems in nearly every program they inspect – whether or not meaningful problems exist. Even though the non-compliance citations may seem minor, they can be turned by HHS into a “deficiency” finding that may lead to the termination of a Head Start operation’s federal grant.

NHSA President and CEO Sarah Greene stated, “We are all for the strictest possible accountability to make sure that every federal taxpayer dollar spent on Head Start is used exactly as intended. We strongly support swift termination of Head Start grantees that have demonstrated an inability to meet the needs of the at-risk children served by this program. And we are on board with nearly every single one of the recommendations outlined by the General Accountability Office in its reports showing glaring shortcomings and mismanagement in the HHS oversight of Head Start programs.”

“However," Greene added, "we can not stand by idly and watch as people falsely claim that their agenda is ‘accountability’ when that is just a label that they have hijacked in order to disguise their true intent of dismantling Head Start as it exists today. It is now painfully clear from scores of Head Start grantees across the U.S. that federal reviewers are under instruction to play a ‘gotcha!’ game where they find problems even if they have to pull something out of thin air. This is a mockery of the real accountability that NHSA and its members are 100 percent behind.”

NHSA Board Chairman Ron Herndon, who is director of the Albina Head Start program in Portland, Oregon, said: “I have been administering a Head Start program for decades now and I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like this OSHA-run-amok style of flyspecking that federal reviewers are now exhibiting in order to taint the good name of Head Start programs. We have talked to some of these reviewers and they have been candid in admitting that they are instructed to either dig up some dirt or find some speck of something that can be trumped up into a deficiency finding.”

Herndon added: “Where there are real problems with a Head Start grantee, let’s clean house and get the bad apples out of the barrel. I’m all for that and I don’t know of anyone in Head Start who takes a different view. But those of us who are running top-notch programs are not going to allow ourselves to be shut down by people who are using ‘accountability’ as cover to manufacture phony deficiencies. These bogus accusations may seem minor, but this is serious stuff that can lead to the termination of a Head Start grant. And that, it would seem, is exactly what the end game is here. HHS wants to terminate grantees – no matter how much it has to phony things up to do so.”

Examples of Bogus Non-Compliance Cited
Phony “non-compliance” findings leveled recently against Head Start grantees include the following:

  • Unraked leaves on a Head Start playground were cited as a potential “choking hazard” for children.

  • Failure to remove bread crumbs from a toaster oven on a daily basis was cited as serious potential fire hazard.

  • “D” cell batteries were found to be dead in flashlights in two classrooms.

  • A Head Start classroom had a patch of fabric attached to its ceiling, and the program in question was found to be non-compliant for failing to “prove” that the swatch was not flammable.

  • A classroom had properly posted a choking emergency poster depicting an infant/toddler, but did not have alongside it a second poster showing the identical information with the substitution of an illustration featuring a slightly older preschool-age child.

  • A Head Start grantee with several classrooms was faulted on an across-the-board basis because a reviewer witnessed an instance in one classroom where staff failed to eat a meal with Head Start children.

  • Bus monitors cited for standing up to help children get on a bus.

    Project Head Start, launched as an eight-week summer program by the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1965, was designed to help break the cycle of poverty by providing preschool children of low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional, and psychological needs.

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