By: - March 13, 2020 5:51 pm

Detroit | Susan J. Demas

Jeanette Guinyard, a Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) employee, said while she is happy to learn that she will be paid during the three-week, state-mandated closure of Michigan K-12 schools, she also is concerned that many seniors are susceptible to COVID-19. 

“There are a lot of children who aren’t doing what they are supposed to do in terms of looking out after their parents,” said Guinyard, an Edmonson Montessori classroom paraprofessional.

Jeanette and Shirley Guinyard | Jeanette Guinyard photo

About one-third of Detroit’s population of about 700,000 residents falls below the nation’s poverty level. Guinyard said that she will use an ample portion of the next three weeks to care for her mother, 77-year-old Shirley Guinyard. She’s calling on others to support seniors who are disproportionately at risk for severe cases of the virus. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday announced that in order to slow the spread of the virus that has rocked the United States, she was closing all K-12 school buildings to students from Monday until April 5. DPSCD General Superintendent Nikolai Vitti thanked Whitmer on Twitter for her leadership on school closures. On Friday, she also signed an executive order banning all events of more than 250 people beginning Friday and ending on April 5. 

Classes for DPSCD’s 50,000 students were canceled Friday. Most staff will be paid throughout the closure period. 

“Where are our public school children going to be eating – we need to figure this out ASAP? Also Is there a way to make sure non salary staff are paid during this time , folks who work in the kitchen and maintenance? #CoronaVirusUpdate #Michigan #K12,” Former Michigan state Sen. Ian Conyers (D-Detroit) tweeted early Friday.

By Friday evening, Vitti announced that the district would provide learning materials and at selected locations breakfast and lunch to students during the three-week period. 

Nikolai Vitti, DPSCD, general superintendent | Ken Coleman

“DPSCD is committed to supporting our students to the greatest extent possible while respecting medical best practices to contain the spread of the virus, …This will be a combination of hard copy packets and online resources,” Vitti said.  

Breakfast and lunch will be served starting March 18 at 58 school buildings. A “grab-and-go” breakfast will be served weekdays, from 8 to 10:30 a.m. and “grab-and-go” lunch will be served from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We also plan to coordinate information to our parents and students about the virus and where screening and testing is available,” Vitti added.

Jametta Lilly leads Detroit Parent Network (DPN), a nonprofit advocacy agency providing enrichment and empowerment services for as many as 5,000 city parents, grandparents and other guardians and caregivers. She said on Friday that her organization will be providing support to its employees, many of whom care for Detroit students. 

In line with state government directives, DPN will make telephone calls and send out emails to connect caregivers. It plans to provide resource information as well as advice to its members regarding paid leave requests and other matters. Lilly said that about 100 grandparents have been trained by the organization on various advocacy matters.  

“Many of them are taking care of grandchildren,” Lilly said.

Water shutoffs

Meanwhile, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), and Dan Kildee (D-Flint Twp.) sent a letter to congressional leadership urging that they include resources to protect residents facing high water bills and water shutoff as Congress considers legislation in response to the spread of the coronavirus. 

The letter, in part, read: 

“Water shutoffs disproportionately impact cities with higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and people of color. In the city of Detroit, for example, 112,000 households had their water shut off between 2014 and 2018. In 2017 alone, it was estimated that one in 10 Detroiters experienced a shutoff. 

“While in recent days the state of Michigan and Detroit have taken proactive measures to restore water service to communities during this crisis to mitigate health risks from the coronavirus, sadly, this issue spans well beyond Michigan. More communities across the U.S. will be facing the same challenges and must have the resources to act.”

Keeping lunch service

Pontiac’s Baldwin Center, a community space where free lunch is served for needy residents, has adapted its service delivery model by shifting to recruiting volunteers, including Oakland University students, who would distribute bagged meals to seniors beginning on Monday, according to Elizabeth Longley, its executive director.

The center, however, will continue to serve groups of 30 people or smaller to comply with Whitmer’s declaration of prohibiting crowds of more than 250. The center hopes to attract more volunteers. Interested people can contact the organization by emailing: 

Detroit Pistons workers

Detroit Pistons employees, including hourly and part-time staff who support game-day activities, will continue to be paid during the National Basketball Association (NBA) season suspension. Pistons officials said that they will reach out to other companies who employ arena staff to provide financial help to them.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.