Head Start program in Louisiana urged to stop discrimination against Latino families

Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Head Start program is denying impoverished Latino preschoolers access to the program – violations of federal laws and regulations that have led the Southern Poverty Law Center to demand the program stop this discrimination.

In a letter sent on behalf of several Latino families today, the SPLC describes how the Jefferson Parish Community Action Program conditions the enrollment of 3-year-olds in Head Start on a family’s ability to provide proof of citizenship, among other questionable requirements.

These families were denied an opportunity to submit applications for the program, made to jump through extra hoops in order to apply, or didn’t apply at all because they could not meet the requirements.

“Requesting irrelevant documents during the enrollment process serves no purpose other than to deter many impoverished families – i.e., the very intended beneficiaries of the program – from ever applying,” SPLC staff attorney Jennifer Coco writes in the letter.

The SPLC’s clients meet the federal requirements to participate in the program, but Head Start personnel refused to accept their applications without proof of a Louisiana photo ID, even though they submitted utility bills proving residency in Jefferson Parish.  

Head Start is a federally funded program that promotes the school readiness of pre-school 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.”

“Head Start provides children from low-income families with an opportunity to access an early childhood education, which national studies conclude is an indicator for future success,” Coco said. “Our clients are eligible for the program under the law and deserve an opportunity to apply for the program. We are urging Jefferson Parish Head Start officials to immediately rescind its discriminatory registration policies and restore our clients to their original positions in the registration pool.”