Andrew Dys

October 1, 2013

Rock Hill Head Start parents facing loss of child care furious with politicians

If the government shutdown is not fixed by Friday, area Head Start centers serving 864 children and families will close.

Parents and other family members arrived at the Rock Hill Head Start center Tuesday to pick up their children from pre-kindergarten.

They came straight from work, or after short naps following third-shift jobs. While the parents work, these tiny kids learn.

These parents hugged kids and almost at the same time, expressed frustration, dismay and some anger over the government shutdown that threatens to close all eight area Head Start centers.

If the government budget game of chicken is not resolved by Friday, 864 children will have no more pre-school. Local Head Start centers would be locked up tight if Washington politicians cannot make a budget deal.

“Education is supposed to be first; children are supposed to be the future in our country, and the answer to their problems in Washington is to close Head Start?” asked Kanneshia Coleman, 26, who was picking up her niece from Head Start because her sister was working.

Coleman works third shift. Her sister works days, so the aunt picks up her niece and all work for a child to achieve.

“They need to fix it – yesterday,” Coleman said of the politicians and the budget crisis. “Time has ran out.”

Many of these Head Start parents have to work nights, on their feet, to take care of their families.

Head Start gives them both schooling for children and child care while parents, aunts, grandparents and even great-grandparents work.

Janell Chisholm said she is “devastated” by the potential loss of Head Start, not just for her as a Head Start parent, but for all families.

“It is imperative that these children have a chance at school and not have it interrupted or taken away,” Chisholm said.

Head Start kids come from families that make little enough money – the working poor – to qualify for this program that, which prepares children for to enter kindergarten.

The centers in York, Chester, Lancaster and Union counties are administered by the non-profit Carolina Community Actions. They are among 20 Head Start locations nationwide facing closure by the end of the week, said CAC executive director Walter Kellogg.

Dozens of Head Start employees, from teachers to bus drivers to cafeteria and social workers, face furloughs at the end of the week.

“The closing would be devastating for children, parents, staff – everybody,” Kellogg said.

Krystoffer Holmes, with two young children at home, said the budget crisis that would knock kids out of school is “terrible.” Like so many parents, he is frustrated.

Several parents, and other family members, expressed support for President Barack Obama’s not giving in to congressional demands to delay or defund the Affordable Care Act – the cause of the budget beef.

Doris Johnson, a retired teacher and the first black teacher to integrate Rock Hill schools in the 1960s, picked up her two great-granddaughters Tuesday from a building that was once a segregated school for blacks, where she herself was a teacher.

She lauded the results of Head Start for children.

Yet she also “understands that President Obama has to fight for health care that he worked so hard to pass.”

The result, Johnson said, is that “the children who attend this institution are caught in the middle.”

Parent Monica Williamson, who works third shift and would have to ask her mother to handle daytime child care while she sleeps, made it clear she is unhappy that her daughter is being held hostage by the political battle over the budget and the health care law that Williamson said is “clearly good for the country as a whole.”

Great-grandmother Mary Jo Austin called the potential closure of Head Start “ridiculous.”

“For these people in Washington to possibly take away schooling from these tiny babies, these children, is just plain wrong,” she said.

Terance Newton came straight from work Tuesday to pick up his daughter at Head Start.

“There is money for other countries, for wars in other places, and there is not money in our own backyard,” Newton said. “They can’t take care of home?”

Newton said Washington politicians take care of their own, leaving the nation’s most vulnerable children, almost all of them black or brown, in the lurch.

“Their children have gone to college,” he said. “I want mine to go to college.”

His daughter loves Head Start, Newton said, and looks forward to school.

“And now I have to break her heart,” Newton said of telling his daughter that school will be stopped because of politicians who are fighting over health care.

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