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Coronavirus: Hillsborough and Pinellas Head Start centers closing through mid-April

But Lutheran Services Florida, the nonprofit that runs the program, says its teachers are working on strategies to teach children remotely while classes at its centers are suspended.

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TAMPA — Lutheran Services Florida on Thursday said it would follow the lead of local public school officials and close its Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

The nonprofit organization serves about 5,400 low-income children from 6 weeks to 3 years old and their families at 95 centers in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Duval and Palm Beach counties. About 1,900 of those children are in the Tampa Bay area.

The programs are on spring break now, and the closures are expected to keep the centers closed through at least April 15.

Related: Florida shutters its schools, universities over coronavirus

In the meantime, program teachers are working on plans to offer remote learning plans to children and their parents and thinking about ways to reach families who don’t have computers, internet connections or even food while their kids are out of the Head Start classrooms.

“Our Head Start staff have reached out to parents to assess the challenges they are facing" as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Bob Bialas, the organization’s executive vice president of children and Head Start services, said in announcing the change. “Many are out of work due to business closures, shortage of hours or lack of childcare. This is an unprecedented challenge that requires communities to come together for solutions.”

Most families in the programs have household incomes under the federal poverty line. Lutheran Services Florida said its program grant will allow the agency to continue paying its teachers, but assistance for families would have to be donor-funded. Anyone who wants to partner with the organization can contact director of community relations Jim Clark at jim.clark@lsfnet.org or (813) 415-7231.

Times staff writer Megan Reeves contributed to this report.

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