07/18/2013

Agreement reached to improve equal access to Louisiana Head Start program

The SPLC has reached an agreement to improve equal access to Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Head Start program, which had prevented impoverished Latino preschoolers from enrolling – a violation of federal laws and regulations.

Under the agreement announced today, the Jefferson Parish Community Action Program (JEFFCAP) agreed to extend the application deadline to allow Jefferson Parish families the opportunity to apply for a seat in the program. Other steps include providing training and technical assistance to the staff to ensure fair enrollment practices.

The agreement comes after the SPLC, representing several Latino families, demanded that JEFFCAP change its requirements. In a letter to officials in May, the SPLC described how the program conditioned the enrollment of 3-year-olds on a family’s ability to provide proof of citizenship. These families were denied an opportunity to submit applications or didn’t apply at all because they could not meet the advertised requirements. 

“This resolution not only restores the rights of Latino families turned away during the spring registration process, but will prevent discrimination in the future,” said Jennifer Coco, SPLC staff attorney. “We commend the Jefferson Parish Head Start Program for taking prompt action, and for working with SPLC to ensure that all Jefferson Parish children have the opportunity to apply.”

JEFFCAP has invited the SPLC to suggest ways to improve enrollment fliers and sought technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. All future fliers and announcements will explicitly state that enrollment does not depend on proof of U.S. citizenship. 

“JEFFCAP is a department of Jefferson Parish that works for the good of all people,” said Jedidiah Jackson, JEFFCAP director. “We in no way seek to deny anyone access to the services we provide. We look forward to working with the SPLC and all of our community partners to ensure that Hispanic families and any other segment of our population have a fair opportunity at an early education.”

Head Start is a federally funded program that promotes the school readiness of preschool children from low-income families. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stipulates that eligibility for the program is based solely on age, family income and residency in the area served by the program. Under federal guidelines, residency can be determined by “whatever reasonable documentation is appropriate to confirm it.”