PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Child care centers are in jeopardy of closing in Pinellas County because of the current classroom size restrictions, some owners say.
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Barbra Mastrota, who owns Precious People Learning Center in Palm Harbor, says that although she may be able to keep her center open for at least another two months, Pinellas County’s "safer at home" resolution is problematic and harmful to other centers in the county.
"We opened up child care but you’re about to see child care start to close down very fast, because we cannot financially make it work,” Mastrota said.
The resolution restricts child care centers from having more than nine students in a classroom. The county’s restrictions are based off of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines related to group gatherings.
Lindsay Carson, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County, said many in the industry are concerned. Two child care centers in the county have already closed.
"The concern about our stability in the child care industry is very real. We had a very low profit margin well before COVID. The fact that it was a fragile industry before the pandemic makes it that much scarier now," she said.
Mastrota believes the classroom size restrictions also make it harder for parents to find child care, "because our school effectively was slashed in half," she said. "Not just (for) me but other schools too. They can’t place their children when they want to go back to work. So how are we supposed to drive economy back to where we need to go if they can’t place their children?"
Carson fears it could lead to an increase in unqualified people watching children.
"We may also see what is more concerning: the neighbor down the block that they may or may not know as well that may or may not have the background screen or the paramour or boyfriend arrangements or different things," Carson said.
Mastrota has started an online petition that urges Pinellas County to allow child care centers to have 14 children in a classroom instead, along with one teacher.
Carson said her coalition will survey the child care providers in the county this week to examine how much availability there is at each center and what specific issues each center faces. She said there are 387 child care centers and school-aged care programs in the county.
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