JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The search is underway for a new company to run Head Start and Early Head Start programs previously run by the Jacksonville Urban League.
The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday terminated the grants to JUL, totaling $13.8 million, due to multiple health and safety violations that were not corrected.
The Head Start and Early Head Start centers, except for seven that have been closed, will open as scheduled on Sept. 3 under an interim grantee. Head Start serves more than 1,700 local families.
As a working mother going back to school, Zikoya Prince says Head Start is vital for her family.
"It's very important so we can finish our careers, take care of our babies."
JUL had run Head Start in Jacksonville for the past 17 years. It has a chance to appeal losing the contract.The Office of Head Start suspended the Urban League's grant last spring following the discovery of nine health, safety and environmental violations, and brought in Community Development Institute (CID) to run the program on an interim basis.
"There was lead paint, some splintering hazards with the wood, exposed plate areas, fall surfaces, etc. That really posed a risk to children," said Shawna Pinckney with Head Start.
The Urban League had 30 days to fix the problems. The Office of Head Start said many of the violations had not been corrected.
CID will serve as an interim grantee until a permanent grantee is found.
"The health and safety of our children and families is always our number one priority," said Office of Head Start Director Yvette Sanchez Fuentes. "There was never a question of whether Head Start would continue in Jacksonville. It's always been about who can provide the highest quality of services to the children and families."
Action News went to the address where the sign hanging at a closed center directs parents to enroll. That's where we found Prince who told Action News that it was the Urban League that accepted her application on Wednesday.
"They told me to complete my application, they didn't say nothing about them being terminated from the program," said Prince.
No one with Jacksonville Urban League came to the door to answer our questions.
Head Start representatives will be available to answer questions from parents at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Hyatt-Regency Hotel.
The funding opportunity announcement for the Jacksonville Head Start program is now open for competitive application and will close on Oct. 22.
Organizations can apply online