Only five of the 11 Pinellas County Head Start preschool centers found to have mold problems earlier this month are expected to open this week, forcing hundreds of families to continue using alternative childcare.
A few more centers are expected to reopen next week, but one or two could be closed for longer, according to Lutheran Services, a nonprofit that manages the federally funded early learning programs.
The group announced closure of the centers Jan. 3 after mold was found during routine checks scheduled over the holiday break. Remediation work at the centers, which collectively serve about 800 students, has been ongoing since, said Lutheran Services chief strategy officer Amelia Fox.
Some issues have taken longer to fix than anticipated because the mold was “hidden away” in places where “you just wouldn’t see it on a normal walk-through,” she said.
Lutheran Services had been doing regular checks for mold, Fox added, but will be “ramping up” those efforts in the future after the findings this month. She said: “Without question, this has been really helpful … in maturing our processes across the board.”
Rainbow Village Center in Largo is expected to reopen Wednesday, and students are expected to return to Los Cominos Center Thursday. Good Samaritan Center in Pinelllas Park, Isay M. Gulley center in Clearwater and Tarpon Springs Center should be open sometime this week, too, though Lutheran Services did not specify a date.
Centers expected to be closed longer include: Clearwater Center, Friendship Center and High Point Center in Clearwater; Dunedin Center; and Jordan Park Center and Connie L. Maramaro Center in St. Petersburg.
Fox acknowledged that the closures have created hardships for Head Start families who are left to find childcare. “We came right off the Christmas and New Year’s holidays and their kids don’t have a place to go,” she said.
But Lutheran Services is working to help in the meantime. The staff has contacted more than 100 families to help find temporary placement for their children elsewhere, and others have been called with updates and additional information about their particular center.
“While this is a hardship and we are disappointed by that,” Fox said, the families “do appreciate that we’re taking care of the kids and that we’re making sure that people are safe.”