Thursday, July 27, 2006

Navajo Nation fires 15 after Head Start background checks

Arizona / West
Navajo Nation fires 15 after Head Start background checks.

WINDOW ROCK — The Navajo Nation has fired 15 employees from its troubled Head Start program after doing background checks.

Federal funding for the tribe's Head Start program was suspended May 2 by the Administration for Children and Families, which said the tribe failed to perform background checks and that an investigation turned up dozens of employees with criminal records.

Darren Tungovia, human resources manager for the Navajo Head Start Program, said 594 employees have been cleared through background checks and 104 still need the checks.
Twenty-four workers have resigned and 19 are on 90-day probation, Tungovia said in a news release.

The figures come as Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. met with Head Start officials, including Director Channell Wilkins, who traveled from Washington, D.C., to the reservation.

Shirley said the Navajo Nation presented its corrective-action plan to the federal officials.

"We're all on the same side, trying to do right by the children, the parents," Shirley said. "We've been working very hard under stressful conditions."

Under the plan to correct the deficiencies in the program, the Navajo Nation has directed the program's human resources manager to ensure that fingerprinting and background checks are done in a timely manner.

The Navajo Justice Department has provided five training sessions to staff members on how to perform the background checks.

The Navajo Nation said it has been difficult to correct the problems when no Head Start employees have been paid due to the federal suspension of funds. Volunteers have filled the gap, the news release said.

The federal government partially lifted the funding suspension in mid-May, clearing the way for the program to begin its summer session.

Shirley has created a task force to ensure the nation is in compliance with the federal regulations.

The program serves more than 4,000 children.