PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Hundreds of parents in Pinellas County, who thought they were bringing the kids back to school tomorrow, are finding out they won’t be able to do that.
The delay, estimated to be between one and two weeks, maybe longer – is being caused by mold discovered at 11 Head Start locations -- spread throughout the county.
It’s left as many as 800 families scrambling to make alternative care plans.
“We noticed some evidence of stuff in December, and we immediately tested it and are now fixing it,” said Amelia Fox, chief of staff for Lutheran Services Florida, which operates the locations.
Mold, she says, was found during inspections over the Christmas break at 11 of their 24 locations.
“There will probably be a handful that will probably go a week or two after that depending upon the extent of damage,” she said.
Head Start is a government-supported early child education program. Their facilities undergo an annual inspection and certification process, said Fox.
Fox says the extent of the mold found at the 11 locations varies.
“Generally, where we’re finding it is underneath kitchen cabinets, underneath bathroom sinks, sometimes near the air-conditioning closets or the pipe closets,” she said.
“It puts you in a financial bind,” said Todd Irland, a working dad who lives around the corner from the Head Start location in Largo.
Irland predicts it’s going to be difficult for parents who rely on the program. Many of them, he says, have just come back from time off over the holidays and now will have to either go without work even longer to watch their kids or pay someone to do it.
Head Start says while most parents have been understanding, others have been on social media asking what they’re supposed to do now.
“They’ve got to go back to work. They don’t have any more time off,” said Irland. “You don’t have any more money saved up. You got to go back to work.”
“Right after the holidays, it’s a hardship and we understand that,” said Fox. “And we’re pretty devastated by that situation. So, they are calling us with those troubles and those issues.”
Lutheran Services of Florida also apologized for not giving parents more time to react. They sent a letter home just this past Friday, leaving only the weekend for most to make alternate plans. For some, they acknowledge, that won’t be enough time. So, they are reaching out to other local Head Start programs to see if maybe they can help those who are in a real bind.
“We are looking to find placement with some of our partners, so that the kids can fill in some open slots there and get educated,” said Fox.
The schools impacted are:
- Clearwater Center
- Connie L Marmaro
- Dunedin Center
- Friendship Center
- Good Samaritan Center
- Gulley Center
- High Point Center
- Jordan Park Center
- Los Caminos
- Rainbow Center
- Tarpon Springs Center
Lutheran Services says it plans to retest every center and make sure the mold issues are cleared up before anyone is allowed to go back in.
They plan to re-open the classrooms as they receive the all-clear. So, some of the locations may be up and running again before others.
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