Prekindergarten Head Start programs will be closed starting Monday due to the government shutdown.
The programs, which are associated with Ninth District Opportunity, are at Riverbend Elementary and McEver Arts Academy. Jones Early Language Development Center and the E.E. Butler Head Start program also are affected.
“This is disrupting lots of families’ lives who rely on our program to provide child care while they are working,” said Kay Laws, Head Start director for Ninth District Opportunity.
Head Start is a federally funded program. The new grant cycle for Ninth District Opportunity was set to begin Tuesday, when the federal government shut down after political wrangling over the budget and new health care law.
According to the Georgia Head Start Association’s website, there are 2,422 children in the Head Start program for all the counties Ninth District Opportunity serves, including Hall. Laws said there are 292 children in Hall County.
“We have small children who, for many of them, coming (to Head Start) is their first experience with school,” Laws said. “They’ve been in session now for six weeks or so. Now they’re going to be out, and they’ll have that whole adjustment period again.”
Laws said in anticipation of a government shutdown, she was able to secure enough money to keep the doors open through Friday, allowing parents some time to find child care when they were notified of the upcoming closures.
“Hall County is in a little better shape than maybe some of our more rural areas because there are more (child care) options for parents,” Laws said.
However, she added those options may be costly.
“For a single mom who’s making minimum wage, for her to pay for child care for one or two children, it’s going to cost her more than she’s going to bring home,” Laws said.
All pre-K programs run by the schools will continue to operate on a normal basis, representatives from both Hall and Gainesville school systems confirmed.
Gainesville’s special needs preschool students attend classes in the E.E. Butler building and will need to be moved out after Friday.
“We are working with the parents of those special needs children to arrange service for them at one of our schools until the Ninth District program resumes,” Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.
The city school system also has one teacher and one paraprofessional housed at the E.E. Butler site.
“We have asked the teacher and parapro to box up all supplies and materials they will need to serve the special needs children,” Dyer said.
Beyond that, the schools are unable to assist with the Head Start program participants.
“We do not have the capacity to take those programs over on such short notice,” Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said.
Laws said that when the government shutdown ends, she anticipates it would take two to three days before the Head Start program would reopen.
“If you’re needing someone to watch your children for a day or two, you might could locate family, friends, whatever,” she said, also suggesting a parent would be able to take a day or two off of work. “But if you’re having to plan for three or four weeks, then you’ll have to look at different options.
“And that’s what (has) been so difficult, is not being able to tell my staff or families when this is going to be over.”