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State talks child care as parents scramble

News Photo by Meakalia Previch-Liu Margaret Richards, a sixth-grader at Thunder Bay Junior High School, is seen playing at the park on Tuesday with her younger sister, Ellasyn, during the statewide school closure.

ALPENA — Officials on Wednesday still had no plan for how to help parents scrambling for child care after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered all K-12 schools closed until April 6 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

With the possibility that the closure could be extended — Kansas this week closed all schools for the remainder of the school year — school officials are trying to come up with a solution, but those answers might not come until at least next week.

That’s according to Scott Reynolds, superintendent of the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District, who has been in contact with state officials daily about child care.

Whitmer signed an executive order late Wednesday easing regulatory requirements to make it easier to provide child care for health care workers, first responders, and others in the “essential workforce,” but it wasn’t immediately clear how quickly that might lead to services in Northeast Michigan.

Derek Knapp, a father of four, two of whom go to Besser Elementary School, said that, for the most part, life has not changed much for his family.

News Photo by Meakalia Previch-Liu Gregory Stoinski helps his daughter, Abigail, a fifth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School, fly her kite Tuesday during the state-wide school closure.

Knapp works at QSR Outdoor Products Inc. from 7 to 3:30 p.m. on the weekdays. His fiancee, however, works fewer hours, so her schedule is more flexible for the kids. He has the ability to take time off and has access to a full-time babysitter.

“We also have a friend of the family that comes in and helps out, as needed,” he said. “We will for sure probably be calling the babysitter more during the break.”

But he’s one of the lucky ones.

That’s why state and local officials are discussing different child care scenarios and identifying staffing needs, Reynolds said. Designated cleaning times would be a priority, as would following the appropriate guidelines for handling children who could potentially become ill.

Officials are considering two staffers per room, with no more than 10 kids per room, to help prevent the spread of the virus, Reynolds said.

“One of the things that we’re fortunate at AMA to have is an abundance of staff that love kids, are passionate about the community, and would be able to come in and fill into these positions, providing that they’re well,” he said. “I know that the governor’s office sees this as a critical concern and is trying to work through that.”

In the meantime, Reynolds suggested parents stay in contact with their employers about getting flexibility for child care.

‘HAPPY TO TAKE THEM’

Meanwhile, Northeast Michiganders were finding ways to make it work.

Kris Lamble is a grandparent who has two grandchildren who attend Thunder Bay Junior High School and Ella White Elementary School. She said she doesn’t mind helping out and taking care of her grandchildren during the shutdown.

“I’m happy to take them out while their little sister, who is 4, is home and can’t get out.” said Lamble on Tuesday while out at Kiwanis Kiddie Park with her grandchildren. “I’m thrilled that they closed (the schools). Any precaution, I think, is a good precaution.”

Younger students out Tuesday afternoon were mostly optimistic about the extended break and coronavirus shutdown.

Lamble’s granddaughter, Margaret Richards, is in sixth grade and said, if anything, she’s worried about running out of things to do during the three-week period.

Maragaret’s younger sister, Ellasyn, a second-grader at Ella White, said she’s just enjoying the time she has to go places like the park. At home, playing with her Barbie dolls is a plus, too.

“I think everything is going to be OK,” Ellasyn said of the shutdown.

Gregory Stoinski and his daughter, Abigail, a fifth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School, enjoyed the second day of the closure at the park. Stoinski said the two were trying to make the best of the sunny day, and made sure to finish a writing assignment together before venturing out.

“We’re just going to take the proper precautions until this pandemic goes away,” Stoinski said. “Everyone everywhere is hard at work, and, from what I’ve seen, everyone is taking precautions to reduce the risk of people getting the virus.”

Knapp, the father of four, said he’s not worried about child care, but the pandemic has “definitely made me more conscious and aware — like the sniffles might not just be the sniffles — just trying to keep a level head, not only for my own sake, but for everyone around me.”

Meakalia Previch-Liu can be reached at 989-358-5680 or mprevich-liu@thealpenanews.com.

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