PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — As communities hold meeting after meeting to focus on how to get teachers and students back to school safely, Pre-K and early learning teachers say they’ve already been facing the health dangers for months.
"We’re in the trenches and it gets frustrating that nobody sees that," said Barbra Mastrota, owner of Precious People Learning Center.
Teachers and staff at early learning and childcare facilities are considered essential workers, but they say they are forgotten about.
"That’s what these providers are feeling. That they’re like, 'Hey wait a minute. Don’t forget about us, we need help too.' And they make barely above minimum wage so they need the help," said Lindsay Carson, Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County.
Early childcare teachers and staff have been working through the pandemic and deciphering safety procedures to the best of their abilities with not enough direction, support or funding.
Eight early learning centers in Pinellas County have had to close their doors permanently since the pandemic because of a lack of funding.
"We don’t have a union that will give us health benefits, or required wages. We’re underpaid and under-appreciated. We do have some great families that really do appreciate us but in general, a lot of people don’t recognize the early childhood field," said Mastrota.
The Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County says ages 0 to 5 are crucial years of learning. But the teachers who are putting themselves at risk to make sure parents can go back to work, don’t have the same opportunities as K-12 teachers. Advocates say that needs to change.
"These people should be recognized. These people should have some opportunities that give them benefits just like regular teachers in the school system," said Mastrota.