LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A top federal official said Washington is ready to suspend the Jefferson County Public Schools Head Start program, if necessary, because of ongoing allegations of abuse.
Ann Lineham, Acting Director of the national Head Start program, met personally with JCPS administrators and Board members Tuesday, and accused them of not doing enough to protect its youngest and most vulnerable students.
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A report from the Administration for Children and Families, delivered to JCPS in August, detailed 15 cases of alleged physical, verbal and emotional abuse, as well as neglect. The cases were reported over an 8 month period at 11 different schools.
"From our perspective, this is a five-alarm fire and we need every hand on deck," Lineham said.
1,500 children are in JCPS Head Start. Lineham described the abuse as unabated because there have been seven new cases since the August report.
"These teachers are doing this because they think it's okay," Lineham said. "And I suspect while there may have been 21, 22 reported, I know these things are going on probably every day because people don't understand that it's bad behavior."
The allegations describe situations in which teachers and assistants used physical force, struck, force fed and subjected the young children to verbal threats and profanity.
In some cases, the children reportedly reacted by screaming and crying. One student was injured.
Lineham warned JCPS administrators and board members that she is prepared to take action if changes are not made.
"We have back at home a draft of an emergency suspension. That's how seriously we take this," Lineman said. "And I think this is a systemic failure of management."
JCPS confirmed seven employees lost their jobs as a result of the reported cases. Acting JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio promised a change in culture and zero tolerance for abuse.
In a statement released after the confrontation, Pollio said future issues "will be dealt with swiftly and appropriately."