Childcare programs reopen with new rules for kids to follow

The future of public schools might still be up in the air, but many of Tampa Bay's youngest learners are getting the chance to get back in the classroom now.

A lot of preschools are reopening throughout the region. In Hillsborough County, for example, roughly 700 of more than 1,000 child care programs and preschools have opened up or never closed during the coronavirus pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, nearly 500 facilities were voluntarily closed down.

"We all needed really to get back to work. I didn't want my teachers to be on unemployment," said Angela Clinton, the director of Palma Ceia Academy in Tampa.

Clinton said her school shut down when attendance dropped from 160 to just 11 students when safer-at-home orders began. Enrollment is now back up to 40.

Hillsborough County Children's Services has been instructing preschools to follow CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19 safety procedures. These include temperature checks for anyone entering the building, a maximum of 10 people in a class, staggering drop-off and pick-up times, and limiting building access.

Clinton said teachers do their best to try to promote social distancing, but it's difficult with preschoolers.

"Three-and-under, you really can't [force social distancing]. You just have to make sure you keep them in the same room, with the same teacher, doing their activities in there and having them hand-wash constantly," she said.

"It's hard. They at least would like to play with somebody. So we try to keep them as much as we can, but it's really not possible," added Kimberly Ladd, a VPK teacher at the school, who added she understand that no matter how closely the school adheres to the CDC's guidelines, some parents might not feel comfortable. "You have some parents that are just, 'I want to keep my child home, I want to keep them home.' Then you have some that just, they have to come to school."

Some parents said it's been difficult for their youngest children and they're ready to get their kids back into a social situation.

"He hasn't seen another kid his age in probably 10 weeks now," said Jamie Fernandez, whose 3-year-old son, Eli attends preschool in south Tampa. "He wants to get back to the playgrounds and get back to his preschool and just have some sense of normalcy that exists outside the house."

Hillsborough County Children's Services told FOX 13 the department will soon be meeting with other county leaders and agencies to determine whether the guidance given to preschools needs to change following Gov. Ron DeSantis full Phase One reopening orders.