Surrounded by dozens of concerned parents and their children, Congresswoman Maxine Waters on Tuesday announced she's calling for a federal investigation into the Los Angeles County Office of Education, also known as LACOE.
Waters claims the county agency is shutting down Head Start programs in communities that need early education the most. According to Waters, LACOE coerced the Kedren Community Health Center, which operates 33 Head Start programs in the greater Los Angeles area, to withdraw their Head Start contract in January.
"This contract was not voluntarily given up. It was forced out of Kedren and it should not stand. We want it back. We are willing to work with LACOE to be in compliance in way that we should," said Waters.
According to LACOE, an on-site review of Kedren's facilities concluded the agency had 700 violations, some involving inaccurate record keeping of enrollment. Other deficiencies included adult scissors found in classrooms accessible to students, uncovered wall outlets and unlocked gates. Kedren says the facilities were working on correcting the violations when LACOE forced them to give up their contract.
Kedren's parents and staff worry their communities' Head Start classrooms are eroding.
"We serve 727 children right now in Watts. The new agency that they're bringing in is only offering 450," said Josie Calderon with the Kedren parent policy council.
LACOE released a statement to Eyewitness News, saying, "Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters requested an investigation of LACOE's Head Start program. In the event there is any investigation, we intend to fully cooperate because we are confident we have followed all necessary steps to protect the quality and integrity of the Head Start program we oversee."
LACOE added that families who depend on Head Start services are their top priority.
"We are committed to ensuring that quality services are provided to the community without disruption. We have identified four experienced organizations that will assume operations and maintain Head Start services after June 30 in Kedren's former service area," LACOE said.