Dina Felix walks her sons to and from their Head Start program at the Kedren Community Health Center every day. She doesn’t mind the trek across train tracks. The excitement of her 3-year-old, Kenneth, about school is worth it.
But the 36-year-old Felix may not be making the trek much longer: The center could close by summer, news that prompted more than a dozen parents and children to voice their concerns Thursday.
The protesters gathered at the center’s administrative office on 111th Place in Los Angeles to express concern over the threat to their children’s education. One woman held a sign etched with, “How will you keep my school open?” A little boy in a green shirt clutched a sign asking, “Am I not important?”
Kedren pulled out of its contract with the Los Angeles County Office of Education in January, according to a statement from the agency. School staff and parents worry that some of Kedren’s nearly 30 centers -- many in South L.A. -- will close at contract’s end, June 30.
Kedren representatives did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment.
Kostas Kalaitzidis, public information officer for the county education office, said the federal government recently slashed funding for its Head Start programs in half. Money will now go to other organizations running similar programs in the area.
For several months, the education office has been working with other agencies to redistribute slots for Head Start preschool programs. Nina Revoyr, executive vice president of Children’s Institute Inc., said the office of education allocated 450 slots at eight locations, four of which are in the Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts, Jordan Downs and Gonzaque Village housing projects -- areas Kedren serves.
Still, Kedren has more than 700 children enrolled, according to Lupe Ross, a board member on Kedren’s policy council.
“We understand why they’re upset," Revoyr said of the parents. "There’s a major shift. We would be more than happy to offer more slots, but this is what LACOE allocated to us.”
Keesha Woods, division director for the county education office, told protesters that every child returning to school next year -- and their siblings -- would have a spot in the program. But it's unclear where those spots will be.
Parents have come to rely on Kedren centers because many are within walking distance of poorer residential areas. There is also worry that their children may be reassigned to a program in gang territory.
Tabatha Gilmore, a center manager for one of Kedren’s Watts schools, shook her head at the thought.
“You may not be affiliated with a gang, but if they know what project you’re from, they will retaliate on you. They don’t care,” she said.
Parents worry about one another, saying they have become like family. And that's also how they view the teachers at the center.
“He loves his teacher,” Felix said of her young son. “It will be hard for him if he has to leave.”
And the potential change could be hard for Felix, too. She doesn't have a car and walks everywhere. Kendren’s center on 111th Place is half a mile from her Imperial Highway apartment. She doesn't how often she could afford bus fare for herself and two sons, so she's not certain if they could even attend another Head Start program.
“I’m going to have to do something else,” Felix said. “I just don’t know what.”