Detroit schools revamp free meal program during COVID-19 crisis

DPSCD lunches, March 18, 2020 | Ken Coleman

A steady line of Detroit adults stopped by Mackenzie Elementary and Middle School on Wednesday to take advantage of Detroit Public Schools Community District’s (DPSCD) free breakfast, lunch and educational enrichment offerings during the state-mandated closing in response to the coronavirus. 

In all, the state’s largest school district serviced 26,000 students and families. 

Monique Campbell arrived at Mackenzie just before noon to secure bag lunches and homework packets for her kids, ages 10 and 14. 

“This is very helpful,” Campbell said.

DPSCD Parent Monique Campbell, March 18, 2020 | Ken Coleman

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered all private and public schools closed from Monday to April 5 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus

The first person died of complications on Wednesday, a man in his 50s, at a Beaumont Hospital in Wayne County. At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Whitmer and officials said there were more than 100 COVID-19 cases confirmed in Michigan. 

DPSCD educational packets | Ken Coleman

DPSCD’s free breakfast and lunch for its students is being served at dozens of school sites 8 to 10:30 a.m. Monday to Friday. Lunch will be served from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays. 

School district staff are providing curbside service to comply with COVID-19 social distancing recommendations. Students are not allowed to enter the building. 

In addition, staff has developed K-8 learning packets with a focus on math, English/language arts, science and social studies. A homework hotline is available to families and students for academic support from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday. The hotline number is: 1-833-466-3978.

Nikolai Vitti, DPSCD general superintendent, pointed out that the school district is limited in the services that it can provide during the crisis. More affluent school districts and state universities are providing online learning. Vitti said there’s a digital divide and federal and state governments must invest in school districts across the state. Many students lack internet access.

Nikolai Vitti, March 18, 2020 | Ken Coleman

More than 50% of Detroit’s school-age children reside in homes where the income derived there falls under the federal poverty rate ($21,720 for a household of three people), according to a University of Michigan report.  

“When crises happen, it becomes stark and clear to everyone the discrepancies that we see based on income and based on race we are seeing right now,” he said.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice 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, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.