Ask ELi: Covid at East Lansing High School

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Dylan Lees for ELi

East Lansing High School

In today’s Ask ELi to Investigate grab bag, we address a series of questions about how East Lansing High School is handling Covid-19 after reports in early January that hundreds of students were absent.

According to the East Lansing Public Schools’ district dashboard, on Monday, there were 27 cases of Covid-19 reported at East Lansing High School and 30 at MacDonald Middle School, but those numbers have fallen to seven cases at ELHS and seven as MMS.

As ELi reported, many more students than that are absent because students are opting to stay home out of fear of contracting Covid-19 or passing it along to a vulnerable family member.

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Are the district and high school evaluating new methods of instruction since it seems that around 400 students a day have sometimes been absent at the high school?

East Lansing Public Schools’ administration is not considering remote or hybrid instruction, according to Superintendent Dori Leyko.

“We are committed to maintaining in-person learning as long as transmission rates in our buildings remain low and we have the personnel to adequately staff a building,” wrote Leyko to ELi on Monday.

She explained that the district views in-person learning as the most equitable form of learning available, citing the effects of more than 18 months of remote learning during the pandemic.

Dylan Lees for ELi

Superintendent Dori Leyko speaks at the Aug. 9, 2021, ELPS School Board meeting with Board President Terah Chambers to the left and Trustee Debbie Walton on the right.

“Upon our full return to school this fall, we’ve seen the impacts on many students from 18+ months of not being in school – academic, social and emotional,” wrote Leyko. “Our greatest equalizer is being in school – once we send all kids home, we can no longer provide many of the supports we can provide in person. At-home situations and access to instruction are far more inequitable than what we can provide in person.”

Teachers, parents, and administrators all expressed concern in the fall that the lack of in-person support and social isolation brought on by remote learning was at least in part responsible for a perceived uptick in student misconduct, as ELi reported in the fall. Leyko spoke to ELi on our podcast in October about some of the possible causes of poor student behavior.

Recently, at least one teacher at ELHS told ELi that they supported continuing with in-person learning despite the rising number of Covid cases in the high school and in our community because students had seemed to have adjusted to in-person learning and behavior had improved.

Is the District working on a plan in the event schools go virtual? 

According to Leyko, the answer is yes, administrators are working on a plan should the high school have to go remote, but she provided no further details.

Are there enough devices to support a transition to remote learning?

At the middle and high schools, yes there are. Leyko told ELi that each student in grades 6 through 12 has a device assigned to them. She told ELi that she would have to confirm the number of devices available for students in grades K through 5.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

During the pandemic, the district purchased numerous devices, at a cost totaling nearly $196,000, to make sure that every student had a device for virtual learning.

Multiple sources have told ELi that efforts are being made by teachers to post assignments, utilize Zoom, etc. Is the high school or district considering policies that would require teachers to use Zoom, Google classroom, or some other method of two-way engagement for students who are missing class?

Student representative Annie McIllhaga told the ELPS Board of Education on Jan. 10 that students were appreciative of the efforts some teachers had made to engage students who missed school due to testing positive for Covid-19 or out of fear of catching Covid-19, but she called for more consistency among those handling the high rates of absenteeism.

Leyko told ELi that “it’s important to allow teachers to support absent students in a way that works for each of them.”

According to the student handbook posted on the website for ELHS, students are allowed nine absences in each course per semester. Otherwise they risk not receiving credit for the course. If a student has an excused absence, the student is responsible for getting missed assignments from teachers. Students have the same number of days they were absent to submit missed work.

The high school handbook references Neola, but the School Board recently adopted a new policy manual.

Why do the Covid case numbers on the dashboard not reflect the most up-to-date information? One ELHS teacher claimed that they received an email from a building administrator stating that the high school had 19 Covid cases while the dashboard only showed 15.

The short answer is that the dashboard is updated only once a day. Leyko provided a further explanation of how the Covid case reporting system works:

“We request building data every morning at 9:30 a.m., gather and review it, and send it to the technology department for posting on our dashboard,” Leyko wrote to ELi. “Cases come in after that, and buildings send out their most updated information in the afternoon.”

“It all catches up, though – we have 24 hours to report a new positive case on the dashboard,” she explained.

The dashboard only contains “school-related cases,” which Leyko defined as “when a student or staff member could have been in the building or at school programming during their transmission time, which could include days prior to the day of the positive test.”

The state guidelines do not require districts to post incidents of Covid-19 when a student or teacher was not in the building when considered infectious according to CDC guidelines. For example, students who took at-home tests at the end of winter break and did not return to school as a result would not have cases that would be included on the dashboard.

What is the district doing now following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Biden administration’s workplace vaccine mandate, except for healthcare workers?

“We have no Board-approved mandate for staff vaccines at this point, so pending any change, we will not move forward with a vaccinate or test mandate,” Leyko explained over email.

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