Michigans school closures affect parents, students and local daycares

NILES, Ind. - Thursday night, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered all K-12 public and private schools close down starting Monday, March 16th through April 6th.

It’s all in an effort to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, but it has raised several questions community-wide.

Several school districts including Niles Community Schools are actually closing until the 13th because it aligns with their spring break.

Now, that’s exactly a month from Friday and with parents normally working, they rely on schools to take care of their children all week long so many parents are left asking, what will happen with their kids?

School closures are popping up around the country all in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. With 12 confirmed cases in Michigan, Governor Whitmer announced that they will do the same.

“In an abundance of caution, I am ordering the closure of all K-12 school buildings in Michigan for 3 weeks,” she said.

It’s leaving K-12 schools to figure out what to do from here.

“Our plan is to continue the learning the best we can,” Dr. Dan Applegate, the Superintendent for Niles Community Schools said.

Like several school districts around the country, Niles Community Schools currently has no online learning system in place, making the closure a little more difficult.

“Our teachers are putting packets together and they’ve been putting packets together for some learning at home and then we’ll talk about how we’re going to deliver the packets,” Applegate said.

When it comes to the two or so meals kids will now be missing out on, Applegate said they are looking at options.

“We’re also trying to put together a food program so we can still provide some food for the students, our salvation backpack program as well as our transportation department and our food services,” he said.

But the biggest concern for both school staff and working parents is, where are the kids going to go for the next 30 days?

“Once you close a school, you close a community because there is no daycare for everybody,” he said.

“When our children aren’t in schools, there are big complexities involved, with the economics and social issues that will be developed with lack of food and education,” Dr. Zechariah Hoyt, the Executive Director for Youth Programs at the Niles/Buchanan YMCA said.

That YMCA is an emergency daycare facility for K-5, usually meant for snow days but now it’s opening up for kids that are out of school.

“We’re going to work on it and see if we can figure it out for Monday,” Hoyt said. “We will offer it until we’re guided differently.”

With the abundance of children expected to walk through the doors, he said they will be increasing the cleaning efforts and teaching the kids how to stay safe and healthy.

Hoyt said they will not overcrowd their facilities and that their two other locations, one in St. Joseph and one in South Bend will also be involved in the process.

“There will be much much greater need than the YMCA can take care of and that’s where I’m going to appeal to the community to say, ‘hey we’re here, we want to figure this out,’” he said.

“When you have something like this that is unprecedented, you just have to figure it out,” Applegate said. “Niles Community supports our schools, supports our kids so I know we’re going to work this through.”

He said that over this time they can also prepare for any longer-term closure of the schools due to the coronavirus.

ABC57 went around Niles speaking to parents about their thoughts on the closure and were surprised to see many were on board with Governor Whitmer’s decision and say that they will just figure it out.

“I think it’s a great idea. She’s doing the right thing. Keep everyone safe, families and everybody around. I agree with her,” Ann Lane said.

Parents saying Friday they know this will be a challenge, but they know the community will come together to help.

“I actually think it’s a great decision. I think it’s necessary to prevent the spread of the virus,” Eddie Washington said. “It’s going to be a struggle. It’s going to be hard but that’s what I’m out here doing now. We all just have to work with what we got and try to get through this together as people.”

This move obviously affects students and parents, but it will also affect full-time and part-time workers at the schools.

“Right now, the plan is to bring in all full-time staff in on Monday to work through packets and some of the other logistics that we talked about. As for part-time staff, we did get some direction from the state, but they seem to be wavering on that so I’m waiting to get some more information on that and then we’ll be moving forward.,” Applegate said.

Since schools are only back in session on the 13th, that’s 30 days where those who work with the school are in limbo.

Applegate tells ABC57 that those workers shouldn’t be out of a job.

“Teacher pay, secretary pay, part-time pay is all in the budget so as long as we continue to get full funding, I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t pay them,” he said.

We should know more soon about what will happen with those part-time workers.

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