Abuse cover-up seals deal for state takeover

Waters

By JIM WATERS

The Bluegrass Institute

If it wasn't obvious before, then recent reports of very young children being abused in the Jefferson County Public Schools' Head Start program absolutely must seal the deal for a state takeover of this broken, failing and unsafe school district.

At least it's unsafe for the young preschool girl whom the Courier-Journal recounted was "swatted" on the head by an instructional assistant at the Dawson Orman Education Center and, as it was reported to the district, "inadvertently" struck her head on some furniture and bruised a lip.

It's also unsafe for 3-year-olds to fall asleep on JCPS Head Start cots at naptime because they could be dumped out of their cots by an instructional assistant not wanting to properly wake them.

A recent federal report released indicates the instructional assistant "picked up the cots and let the children roll to the floor."

More than 40 cases of physical abuse and neglect in the district's troubled Head Start program have been reported in the past 18 months, including that of a 3-year-old boy at Tully Elementary, whose instructor forced him to eat a piece of wet fruit when he wouldn't quit pouring milk on it.

"When he wouldn't stop, the teacher scooped the damp fruit off the table, wrapped her arms and legs around the child, and forced him to eat the food," the newspaper reported.

It's impossible for the grandfather writing these words to describe in a family-friendly publication the action he would take were he to arrive to pick up his toddler-grandson only to find out the little guy had been dumped out of a cot or clenched by an adult.

Federal Head Start officials had warned JCPS that one more case of reported abuse would endanger the district's $15 million program grant.

Perhaps the best case for a state takeover of the school system is the way the JCPS Board of Education responded to the reported abuse and the feds threat.

Realizing there were two more reported abuse cases in the pipeline and that it would likely lose the $15 million grant, the board preempted the feds' move by returning the grant and moving $8 million from the district's general fund to expand another current early childhood program, thus taking away funding from other needed projects.

The board's discussion and vote on this issue reflect the cultural malady affecting the whole district - from preschool through 12th grade of seeming more focused on saving adult jobs rather than protecting and educating children.

Moving the $8 million likely won't diminish the chances of school board members getting votes in the next election from adults whose jobs are spared.

It is any wonder why citizens, taxpayers and parents cannot -- and should not -- have an ounce of confidence in this system?

The board's decision to forego the $15 million grant is also largely about covering up the problems and avoiding the possibility of a national spotlight shining on what Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville, said in a Facebook post would be the only one of the nation's 1,600 school districts to get kicked out of Head Start.

The JCPS school board missed an opportunity to grab the high ground in this situation by not only running from scrutiny of its Head Start operation, but also by failing to investigate whether similar problems might also lie unreported in the district's other, state-funded preschool program.

JCPS' response to this situation makes it clear: the Kentucky Board of Education must intervene.

Failure to intercede would make the state board itself an enabler of the abuse and neglect in Head Start, as well as a party to problems in the district's other state-funded preschool program that likely are just as troubling.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky's free-market think tank.

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