Michigan schools asked to open emergency child care centers for ‘essential workers’

Some Michigan classrooms, closed until at least April 6 because of the coronavirus pandemic, may be retrofitted as day care centers for essential workers such as doctors needed at hospitals. (Shutterstock)

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Some closed K-12 classrooms in Michigan are being retrofitted as temporary child care centers for children of "essential workers" ranging from doctors to grocery stockers needed to battle the coronavirus pandemic

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order late Wednesday relaxing some regulations around child care service. School officials had begun preparing classrooms earlier this week.

Pop-up child care centers may also be developed inside hospitals, according to the executive order.

Those available for the child care service include: health care workers, home health workers, direct care workers, emergency medical service providers, first responders, law enforcement personnel, sanitation workers, child care workers, personnel providing correctional services, postal workers, public health employees, key government employees, court personnel, and “those working in Michigan utilities, manufacturing, mass transit, grocery stores and “other essential supplies, goods or equipment.”

You can read the executive order here.

Those who qualify as essential workers can go to www.helpmegrow-mi.org/essential and your information will be routed to someone in your community who can help you find care. 

The order doesn’t address how the care would be paid for. “We’d love to know that answer,” said Scott Menzel, superintendent of Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

Peter Haines, superintendent of Ottawa Intermediate School District, told Bridge earlier Wednesday that “we await the governor’s executive order for specifics and regulations, but are already working to identify both existing capacity and potential need,” Haines said in an email to Bridge. He said the Ottawa ISD “is working collaboratively with other regional leaders and agencies and expects to meet the needs as they are clarified.”

Child care centers weren’t ordered closed when K-12 schools were shuttered this month, partly because administration officials were concerned that young medical professionals might be forced to stay home during the pandemic to care for their infants and toddlers at a time they’re desperately needed in hospitals.

The pop-up day cares are meant to provide essential workers a place to take their children if their current child care provider closes (some centers have closed voluntarily), or if a relative now watching children becomes ill. 

“Our health care workers and everyone who’s providing emergency medical services are doing incredible work to help us fight COVID-19,” Whitmer said in a news release late Wednesday announcing the executive order. “That’s why I’m taking action to expand capacity for child care services for these critical frontline workers. By expanding our ability to care for our children, we are allowing them to continue working and protect public health and safety. Child care services are essential to our collective effort, particularly while schools are closed. To all child care providers who are able and willing to remain open in Michigan, I thank you for your service and sacrifice during this time.” 

Menzel said the regulations relaxed in the order will allow school districts to quickly convert classrooms to daycare, “while still assuring the safety of children.”

The disaster relief child care centers must perform a health evaluation of everyone who enters the facility each time they enter, and they must deny entry to individuals who do not meet the evaluation criteria.  


Menzel said superintendents were asked to prioritize placing child care in now-closed schools that are “close to hospitals” to make it more convenient for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.

Maryland enacted a similar executive order expanding child care for essential workers March 14.

Haines said schools in Ottawa County are first trying to reopen child care classrooms that operated inside elementary schools but that were shuttered when Whitmer ordered all schools closed through April 6.

Menzel said he is working with Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti school districts to open what amounts to pop-up child care centers in schools

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    Barry Visel
    Wed, 03/18/2020 - 8:13pm

    I wonder if hotels, which are probably seeing a drop in business, could be sanitized and used for isolation rooms if hospitals get overwhelmed. Most even have kitchens these days for limited food service. Just a thought.

    Child Care Veteran
    Thu, 03/19/2020 - 9:10am

    I wonder if it will be possible to find child care workers to adequately staff these expanded/new programs? Child care staff will be risking their own and family’s health for positions that typically pay barely over minimum wage.

    Dorene Radke-Boyd
    Thu, 03/19/2020 - 9:36am

    I wonder if it will be possible for the new/expanded programs to find experienced child care workers. These individuals will be risking their own and family’s health for positions that typically pay little over minimum wage and provide no health insurance. The existing child care programs that have chosen to stay open are having a difficult time keeping their rooms adequately staffed at this time. Additional state funds should be allocated to increase wages for all child care workers continuing to work in the state and provide health care for them and their families.

    Thu, 03/19/2020 - 11:17am

    Good day,
    My wife is a child care provider and truly loves the job. Unfortunately, every one wants something for nothing. From the owners of the service, to the parents of the children everyone wants to keep more dollars in their respective pockets. While we are hoping for a closure order to protect both the workers and the children, I doubt anything short of organization of a child care union will bring to light how critical a service this is and the priority it should command in our communities. We cannot continue to marginalize the welfare of our future generation, teachers and the workers of group childcare should be given pay commensurate to the role they perform.

    Concerned Early...
    Thu, 03/19/2020 - 4:12pm

    I applaud the governor's act to support our "essential workers"; however, the order leads us to believe there is a shortage of child care available to these individuals at this time. Our local daycare facilities are losing children daily due to closures. The governor's order is forcing schools to open it's facilities to act as supplemental daycare centers and taking away from the business from established centers. Meanwhile, teachers are working to put together learning materials and deliver meals to their students. This order now mandates certified teachers to now become daycare providers. I believe if schools are going to open they should solely be for educating students! Both teachers and daycare providers have very stressful and yet rewarding jobs; however, they are not interchangeable. Daycare centers who are set up, trained and equipped to care for a wide range of children birth to age twelve should be in charge of doing just that, not schools.