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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Splinters, Rusty Nails Cost Town $13M Grant

(CN) - The D.C. Circuit canceled a New Jersey town's $13 million Head Start program for failing to remove splintery boards with rusty nails from a playground.

Camden operated 22 Head Start schools serving 1,300 children before a 2005 performance review found "splinters and rusty nails at one ... playground

and trash cluttering another playground."

The Camden County Council on Economic Opportunity, the administrator of the federal grant to run the early childhood-development program, had 30 days to clean up the problems.

On subsequent visits, however, inspectors found that while the offending playgrounds had been cleaned up, another school not cited in the original complaint had "trash and a pile of old wood planks with rusty nails sticking out."

The Department of Health and Human Services yanked the council's funding, a decision upheld by an agency appeals board.

Camden sued, but a district court again sided with the agency.

On appeal, the D.C. Circuit followed suit, finding that the council clearly violated the grant's stipulations and that HHS had not "arbitrarily and capriciously" pulled the grant.

Camden argued that it had corrected the problems at the sites identified in the initial inspection, and that it was "improperly denied funding based on a later-discovered problem at a different site."

The three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., remained unconvinced.

Writing for the panel, Judge Brett Kavanaugh said "the review process does not allow a grantee 'to play cat and mouse' by correcting problems at one location while allowing other premises to be or become noncompliant or by correcting one set of hazards while allowing similar hazards to exist."

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