PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Florida childcare providers are now able to increase their classroom capacities back to normal numbers, calming fears for some facilities that they may have to close because they could barely make ends meet.
Under the governor's first executive order, the state put several new procedures for childcare facilities to reopen, namely limiting the number of people in a classroom group to 10.
That made it difficult for childcare facilities, already operating on razor-thin margins, to stay afloat financially. The original restrictions slashed the capacity of most facilities.
Barbra Mastrota with Precious People Learning Center in Pinellas County originally started this petition, calling on Governor Ron DeSantis to increase the group size allowed in a room to 15 people.
Now, childcare facilities across the state are seeing a loosening of restrictions on the number of kids allowed in a classroom, according to an email sent out by the Pinellas County Licensing Board with the Florida Department of Health. It explains the governor's new guidelines on childcare facilities:
CHILDCARE FACILITIES (i.e. Daycares and Summer Camps)
"Childcare facilities, including daycares and voluntary pre-kindergarten programs, should continue to operate throughout each phase of the Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. plan and follow general mitigation protocols as outlined in this report.
Childcare facilities should consider implementing the following mitigation techniques:
- Require all staff to wear masks or cloth face coverings and other PPE while on premises
- Limit class size to maximize social distancing, where feasible, as the virus is most transmissible indoors under close, sustained contact
- Institute handwashing at regular intervals (i.e. every hour)
- Conduct temperature checks daily
However, childcare facilities across the state are still facing smaller class sizes, combined with higher cleaning costs and lower enrollment numbers.
Even with the new executive order increasing the capacity for group sizes in classrooms, many are struggling to stay in business. This comes as the demand for childcare climbs as people start returning to work, said Lindsay Carson, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County.
Carson wants to help guarantee parents have a safe, licensed childcare facility to take their kids to once they return to work.
"If children don't have access to their licensed childcare provider, whether it's home or a center, someone who's got the background screening and training to best support their development, the question is what do families do?" asked Lindsay Carson, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County. "And where are these children going?"
The Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County continues to press both local and state leaders for financial help to support childcare facilities through the pandemic.
"As more and more families return to work, the demand will continue to increase," Carson said. "... We're already hearing about families being turned away. But as we move on, that issue is going to significantly increase."
Carson said childcare providers need the financial support that other industries, like banks or airlines, received from the federal government when faced with significant challenges in the past.
"Child care is absolutely essential to the rebuilding of our economy," Carson said. "So, we have to understand the issue and provide the support to our providers."
The Federal Cares Act does provide money for Florida to support child care providers by paying them through their closures. However, Carson said that money is currently being used to support childcare for essential workers, healthcare workers and first responders. But she said we need more federal help for other families too.
"The issue is that it is much bigger than just those providers that are serving children that are receiving subsidies or public funds because so many private paying parents are utilizing child care or have historically," Carson said. "Without that care, that's not necessarily a tab that the state is able to pick up at this point."
In the meantime, providers like Precious People Learning Center will work to remain open amid the restrictions and hoping they'll see more support for childcare facilities across Florida.
"This is not about it's not about dollars," Mastrota said. "It's about making sure that we can keep our doors open so that when this pandemic does pass, we're going to still be around for you guys. We're the backbone of the workforce community."