Last week all three teaching staff in my daughter’s Early Head Start classroom were absent. I had assumed that they were possibly attending a training or some other work related program. When I questioned the lead teacher replacement, she stated that she didn’t know anything other than they were not in the classroom. She seemed very stressed and uncomfortable whenever she was questioned. This caused me a little bit of concern, but since I was familiar with her and the other subs in the room, I just let it go.
On Sunday I received a call from another parent who believed that all three staff had been terminated or placed on some kind of administrative leave and were not going to be allowed to return or attend and participate in the Transition/Graduation Ceremony they had been helping our children prepare for. She informed me that there was a public Policy Council meeting taking place last night and asked me to be there with her, so that we could possibly get answers and express our concerns regarding the impact on our children. Yesterday, she contacted me again to verify that I would be there and indicated that she felt that some of the administration were trying to intimidate and discourage the parents from participating. She also requested I bring a letter, which is what I wrote as my blog entry for yesterday.
Attending the Policy Council meeting was an interesting experience. One that I wish I had taken advantage of before and may engage in, if my daughter is able to continue and transition into the Head Start program in the future. One of the most interesting things the response of the Director of the Head Start Program when asked by a Board Member regarding the possibility of finding creative ways to provide services to community members in need who are not currently being served.
He stated that the federal agency in charge of overseeing the program nationally has a very punitive response when programs don’t stick strictly to the established guidelines and protocols. Which means loss of funding. In a punitive atmosphere taking risks and being creative in exploring solutions and ways to serve the needs of the community decreases. Therefore, there are no current plans in place to address the needs of those not currently being served due to questions of program eligibility.
This discussion took place during the course of the three hours of agenda items regarding audits, budgets, strategic planning, program self-assessments, and program reports while we were waiting for the Personnel agenda item to be addressed. Personnel was actually the first agenda item on the list, but got pushed back because when the meeting began there was not a Quorum of Policy Council members present to vote on the action items, even though the meeting began 15 – 20 minutes late. Within less than five minutes of that declaration the remaining numbers to reach quorum arrived.
When Personnel was finally up, a disclaimer was stated that only those who were part of the Personnel Committee had knowledge of the details and that legally they were not able to discuss any of the details outside of the context of their committee meeting. To do so would open them as individuals and the organization up to lawsuits and negative legal ramifications.
So we sat through the voting.
Only one of the teaching staff who had been absent had her name brought up and voted on. The vote carried through her termination. Some of the other voting seemed to indicate that personnel to replace all three staff were being put in place.
Once the voting was finished, we attempted to voice our concerns and advocate for the staff. At that point, we were shut down and instructed to not speak any further until we had met with and voiced those concerns to the Program Director of the Early Head Start Program and that bringing those concerns to air in front of the Board and Policy Council in an open public meeting would open us up to negative legal ramifications and potential lawsuits.
I didn’t pay attention enough to the early civics lessons of Schoolhouse Rock and what was taught in the elementary schools I attended. By the time I was in High School and made my attempts to complete a College education, I was so caught up in surviving the day to day realities of having been a low-income, teen, single, welfare mom, that I didn’t think about, engage in, or understand the ramifications of judicial decisions and creating laws and rules through litigation, and did my best to ignore and avoid political involvement and discourse.
I look around me now and see the changes that have taken place in our country over the past two decades, while I was too busy being overwhelmed with surviving my circumstances and cycling through the depression, fibromyalgia, and relationship problems in my life and realize that there are way too many of us who have lost our voice because we didn’t use it while others increased the power of litigation and now use fear of litigation to silence us.
No longer is it a question if rationality, morality, truth, and justice will be the determining values and priorities when making key decisions: political, organizational, or personal. Now the question is, “How much will it cost in terms of time and money if this issue is taken to court?” So, the perception and fear that someone might, possibly sue an individual or organization becomes the determining factor in whether we get to exercise our freedom of speech.
We have lost and continue to lose our voice to the fear of litigation.