Northern Michigan schools prepare emergency child care centers

Mar 23, 2020


Volunteers at Benzie Central Schools made lunches last week to distribute to students who are at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Credit Max Johnston / Interlochen Public Radio

On Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order mandating people stay in their homes.

People who work in hospitals, pharmacies and grocery stores and who provide other essential services are excempt.


To help exempt workers do their jobs, Whitmer asked northern Michigan educators to coordinate child care services and make emergency daycare centers available if needed.


Right now local groups are connecting essential workers with licensed child care centers nearby, says Yvonne Donohoe, director of Early Childhood Services for the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District.

“Once that market is fully saturated, what we will do is that we are working with local school districts that are willing to open in the case of emergency need,” she says.

Parents in the five northwest lower Michigan counties that qualify can call 211 and to get help finding a local daycare with openings. Donohoe says they seem to have enough care options for now.

“I think that we’re in good shape and prepared to meet whatever need exists,” she says. “If there’s a greater need we’ll continue to plan and bring in even more folks.”


Local school districts are prepared to open emergency daycares in now-empty buildings in Benzie, Frankfort-Elberta, Mancelona and the Traverse area, Donohoe say.


Schools are ideal locations, she says, because they have the space, supplies and staff at the ready. Benzie and Frankfort-Elberta Schools also have licensed child care centers that could be reopened.


Last week, Whitmer ordered schools across the state prepare the emergency child care centers.


“Our health care workers and everyone who’s providing emergency medical services are doing incredible work to help us fight COVID-19,” she said in a briefing. “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."