Detroit schools revamping food distribution amid employee illnesses
Detroit Public Schools overhaul food distribution because staff get sick.
“More and more employees are getting sick,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a statement. “Therefore the current structure is being discontinued.”
The district plans to stop food distribution on Tuesday and Wednesday before resuming in 17 locations on Thursday. The district then distributes food two days a week and distributes several meals per visit.
On Thursday, students receive a bag with four pre-cooked breakfast dishes and four pre-cooked lunches that last the whole weekend. On Monday they will receive three breakfasts and three lunches, the district said. Medically ill students get their multiple meals delivered to their homes.
The idea is to reduce the number of interactions between employees and the public in order to reduce the potential spread of the coronavirus.
Detroit, like districts across the state, offers take-away meals to students who typically qualify for free or discounted school lunches. Last week the district handed out more than 70,000 meals.
On Monday, the district notified families of the interruption of a robocall and initially linked it to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s order to stay home.
“All sales offices (school in Detroit) will be closed after March 23rd today due to Governor Whitmer’s orders to seek refuge,” the robocall said.
Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said the order did not prevent school supplies from being distributed.
“Governor Whitmer is committed to ensuring Michigan students have access to the food they need during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brown said. “As per the governor’s executive order, the K-12 school feeding services are considered critical infrastructure and should continue. The governor appreciates the important work our front school staff do every day to ensure that our children eat while ordering have what they need is in place. “
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When asked for details, the district clarified that the stop was related to safety concerns.
“While we understand the governor’s order to ‘seek shelter’, it has made more employees uncomfortable working within the current structure of the Detroit Pubic Schools Community District sales offices,” said Vitti.
The district would not tell how many district employees or contractors became sick.
“We have received several self-confirmed cases from employees and contractors across the district,” said spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson. “We are still working with the health department, but due to the large number of confirmations in a short period of time, we cannot track confirmations in real time.”
Wilson said the district is responding to employee illnesses as soon as possible.
“When we receive a self-confirmed case from an employee, we notify the employees and inform them of the correct guidelines if they have been exposed or if they have any of the described COVID-19 symptoms,” she said.
Vitti said the district was working to restructure the program more securely and that more details would be released soon.
Other districts contacted by the Free Press said they wanted to continue distributing food, as they did last week. Angel Abdulahad, superintendent of Madison School, said the governor’s order allows districts to continue the distribution and his district plans to proceed as usual.
“On orders from the governor … we can identify the staff and / or positions required to continue basic operations of distributing food to our students,” said Abdulahad. “We take all necessary precautions, from social distancing, gloves, masks, etc. to ensure that our employees are safe while preparing and distributing food.”
Others said the same thing.
“The governor’s order exempted the distribution of food,” said Huron Valley School spokeswoman Kim Root. “We are not going to suspend the Huron Valley program at this time.”
West Bloomfield will also continue its program, said spokesman Daniel Durkin.
“We believe our food service workers are indispensable workers as ordered by the governor,” he said.
Other districts said they were reviewing their sales programs but had no plans to make changes immediately.
“We currently offer pickup and delivery three days a week at multiple bus stops in our community,” said Paul Shepich, superintendent of Clarenceville School. “We’ll continue to do this for the rest of this week and then re-evaluate our service for the next two weeks. We can adjust our schedule based on our data from the first two weeks of distribution.”
Avondale Schools also made changes, but mostly for operational purposes, said spokeswoman Annette McAvoy.
“We plan to continue our food distribution but are adjusting locations based on needs and resources,” McAvoy said, adding that these adjustments would be communicated to families once they are completed.
Contact John Wisely: 313-222-6825 or [email protected] on Twitter @jwisely