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Mel Gravely

OHS Releases Enrollment Expectations for 2021-2022 School Year

Summer is the time for planning. And after the confusion and societal upheaval of the last year, this upcoming school year is going to take more planning than usual. The Office of Head Start (OHS) recently released a program instruction outlining their enrollment expectations for the upcoming school year. In short, it states that designees must begin working toward full enrollment and providing in-person comprehensive services for all enrolled children in 2021-2022, regardless of program option. They also released guidelines on whether “virtual or remote services are an allowable, long-term, locally designed option.”

According to OHS, programs that provided in-person services throughout the pandemic are expected to continue to do so. Programs that provided hybrid in-person/remote or fully remote services will be expected to move to in-person services. Of course, OHS acknowledges that any of these scenarios can change if local health authorities, the CDC, or the local school districts issue stay-at-home orders or other such guidance. But barring any public health orders, programs are expected to be back in person for 2021-2022 and striving for full enrollment.

“Virtual and remote services for children are considered an interim strategy in the presence of an emergency and will not be approved as a locally designed option,” OHS writes. “The Office of Head Start supported virtual and remote services… However, they are not an acceptable replacement for in-person comprehensive services.”

They also state that they understand that some programs have come up with creative and useful strategies for engaging families and parents remotely, specifically with their at-home services. OHS does not discount the value in these innovations, but states they they should continue to be used only as “enhancements rather than substitutes for previously approved program options and service delivery.”

In one of our previous blog posts “Is your ERSEA strategy ready for post-COVID?” we explored the lower number of enrollments due to the shift in demand for childcare services because of the pandemic. Which begs the question, does your program have a solid ERSEA strategy to “rebuild awareness and rekindle connections” for the upcoming year?

“ERSEA is the lifeblood of any Head Start program,” we wrote in our blog. “And this next year it will be increasingly important to make sure you’re doing what you can to serve as many children as possible per your funded enrollment.”

Luckily, funding is on its way. Funding earmarked for Head Start programs through the American Rescue Plan is being distributed. OHS explains that the law allows programs the flexibility to determine how best to spend those funds to get their programs back up and running.

“This includes using funds to purchase services, materials, and technology to ramp up recruitment efforts,” writes OHS, “as well as to provide vaccine outreach and support as one layer of mitigation and protection for staff, children, and families.

Last but not least, as you spend this summer revising your plans, remember to engage families in the process. Communicate openly and ask for their feedback. If you haven’t already, start with a digital survey to families about their expectations, hopes, wants, and needs for 2021-2022. Their feedback will be invaluable as you develop a plan that is responsive and flexible to the needs of your community.

In the meantime, OHS states they they will continue to support grantees through webinars and other instructional materials as programs return fully to in-person services. Additional resources and information are available on the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC) website.

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