MCHR Board Member Kim Redigan on the Impact of COVID-19 and Water Shutoffs on School-Aged Children

Posted March 22nd, 2020  |  Statements

Good morning and thank you for being here.

My name is Kim Redigan. I am vice chair of Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, a member of the People’s Water Board, and a high school teacher.

Imagine for a moment that you are a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore. You have a younger sister in the 5th grade and a baby brother in 1st grade. Your school has been closed because of the corona virus and for the next several weeks – maybe months – you will be living in a home without water. I invite to think about how life would be for you. Consider not only water needed for drinking, but think about things like brushing your teeth, flushing the toilet, washing your clothes, making a simple meal. Imagine the possibility of receiving an order to shelter in place without water. What would that look like for you and your family?

This is the reality for many of our school children right now who are living without water – not just here in Detroit but around the state. Like the virus, this is a travesty that transcends borders. Our children are profoundly affected whether they live in urban, suburban or rural areas. It is unconscionable that as we speak, our children do not have access to water. We should be outraged.

The Center for Disease Control issued a report warning that school closures may very well extend beyond 3 weeks . . . perhaps 8 weeks . . . perhaps 20. The report explains that while long school closures may have some impact on preventing the spread of the virus, other mitigation efforts such as handwashing have a much greater impact on reducing both the spread of the disease and reducing the number of cases requiring health care . . . and yet we are sending kids home without water.

The CDC also reports that nationally almost 40 percent of grandparents are currently providing childcare – this should concern us deeply during this period of school closures. Imagine the potential risk to elders – our most vulnerable group – who are home with children all day in homes without water. The CDC states that having kids home will increase the risk to older adults in the home. Imagine the compounding effect of this when water is shut off.

We know that across the nation, 1.5 million of our students are housing insufficient. We know that in Michigan, half our students qualify for breakfast programs and that 7 out of 10 qualify for no cost or reduced lunch. We know that students are being sent home to learn online at a time when 12 percent do not have computers and 21 percent lack internet access (2018 Census). To send our students – on top of all this – to homes without water is a scandal. The CDC has raised the concern that without the resources our youth need, they will most likely ignore social distancing directives and choose to gather during the day when they would normally be in school. Families lacking food and water will be forced to leave their homes in order to survive at a time when we are being told to stay home increasing their risk of exposure.

I want to end by saying that these water issues are more widespread than people know. Teachers – whether in public, private, or charter schools – have often quietly assisted students whose families are struggling to live without water. The schools have offered a social safety net for students who are now left to their own devices to secure water – the very essence of life.

We demand that water services be restored immediately to all households, and that going into the future, a plan be implemented to make water affordable for all families. We need those in government at the local, state, and federal level to take action now to ensure the safety and protection of Michigan’s children.