East Lansing Public Schools announced just moments ago that the high school will be closed tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 27.
Instruction at the high school today was disrupted earlier by a large student walk-out protest and then another shelter-in-place order.
The administration announced this afternoon, “In order to be proactive and investigate and address our current safety concerns in our building, tonight’s boys basketball games against Okemos have been postponed.”
Meanwhile, East Lansing Public Schools students, parents and teachers are continuing to demand change from the East Lansing Board of Education in the midst of a string of violent events at the school.
A petition demanding that the current board president step down is gaining steady support, and the teachers’ union is demanding action.
Concerns have been building but have now reached a boiling point.
At the Monday, Jan. 23, school board meeting, dozens of speakers interacted directly with the board, asking for more accountability for student behavior, wider latitude for school staff to handle problems, increased safety measures and more.
Monday’s meeting came in the wake of reports of a student accidentally dropping a gun in front of a teacher following a fight after a Thursday, Jan. 19, basketball game. But speakers were clear the violence has been ongoing, oppressive and not isolated to a single event.
Parents have been raising concerns for a long time. Asked to advise ELi on what questions to put to school board candidates last fall, many parents named violence in the schools as a concern.
High school parent Ludie Jones spoke at length to the board at the Jan. 9 meeting, saying fights had been breaking out steadily at the school and telling the board, “I don’t feel like we’re being heard.”
The concerns are reaching the highest ranks of the city, as Mayor Ron Bacon has announced a listening session for Friday, Jan. 27, and invited people concerned about the violence in ELHS to attend.
East Lansing’s newest Council member tells ELi why he pulled his sons from ELHS on Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday’s shelter-in-place order came the morning after the board meeting. Superintendent Dori Leyko later said what was initially termed a “lockdown” was initiated because there was concern a student had a weapon. An investigation by school administration traced the rumor back to students misunderstanding a conversation.
Following the shelter-in-place, many students chose to leave campus or were picked up by parents. Noel Garcia Jr., sworn into City Council this week, left work early to pick up his two sons from ELHS. In 2018, Garcia was narrowly beaten for a seat on the school board by Edsall, now the controversial board president.
Garcia told ELi he has not picked up his sons after a lockdown previously but chose to after this incident because the violence and other scary incidents have been building over the past few weeks.
“I was in law enforcement for 25 years and I always rely on my gut feeling,” he said. “I just had a gut feeling and it wasn’t just from one incident. It was from a culmination of things that have been happening at school the last two or three weeks.”
Garcia said he’s noticed his sons’ attitudes towards school shifting lately due to the violence, a feeling that was shared by many of the students who spoke at the board meeting.
“[My sons] haven’t come out yet and said ‘I don’t want to go to school,’” he said. “But they have said that they don’t feel safe at school.”
Garcia said he supports teachers and administration at ELHS, but hopes that some changes can be made to increase safety.
Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate (ALICE) training is a type of instruction that prepares people for active shooter situations, and Garcia is an instructor for ALICE training. He and other instructors have already provided ALICE training to several schools in Ingham County and he said East Lansing school staff could benefit from the instruction.
But when he suggested the free training for East Lansing’s schools, “The answer I got when I was running for East Lansing School Board four years ago from the superintendent is ‘Thank you but we’re doing something similar.’ I don’t know what that [something similar] is.”
Garcia will be joining Bacon at Friday’s special “listening” event.
After Wednesday’s snow day, Thursday brought a student walk-out.
Early today, East Lansing High School students staged a walkout in protest of the handling of the violence. The walkout followed on the heels of the ELHS Student Council Executive Board issuing a letter that included three demands.
The first is that there be clear consequences and punishments for student actions.The letter requests that teachers and administrators be given more authority to issue punishments without interference from the school board.
The student council also requested that students and staff directly impacted by the violence be given more resources to assist with their mental health. Specifically, the letter asks for more mental health days, counseling services for staff and more opportunities for students to visit school support staff.
The student council also requests that Edsall resign from her post as board president. The letter accuses Edsall of being dismissive to students, parents, teachers and community members at the Jan. 23 meeting, and calls her behavior at the meeting “unprofessional.” The letter also says Edsall’s favored expulsion and suspension policies lack accountability for students.
Hundreds of students joined the walkout protest this morning. Several student advocates addressed the crowd and held signs, asking for solutions to the violence and highlighting the anxiety that recent events have caused.
Many speakers called for more safety measures and increased accountability for students.
Some speakers also sought solutions to issues relating to racial equity in the school and pointed out the lack of diversity among teachers at ELHS, a persistent concern as ELi has documented. (In 2020, the district’s leadership committed to a host of changes in the pursuit of racial justice, including removing the regular presence of police officers, but the diversity gap between students and staff has not lessened much.)
Many parents came to the school this morning to show support for demonstrators. And the student council is not the only group that has called for Edsall to resign. A petition calling for her to step down is circulating online and gathered more than 700 signatures in two days.
Edsall is the longest serving member of the school board in terms of total years served. In 2016, she lost her bid for reelection but she was elected again in 2018. Last November, she was reelected with support from the East Lansing Education Association (ELEA).
The board elected Edsall president at the first meeting of this year, Jan. 9, where Trustee Monica Fink challenged how that election was conducted. That was also the meeting where parent Ludie Jones raised concerns about the violence and was met mostly with silence by the board.
The teachers’ union is asking for policy changes and waiting for the board to act.
At Monday’s school board meeting, multiple East Lansing Educational Association (ELEA) union representatives voiced concerns about violence in the schools and the administration’s ability to hold students accountable.
ELEA Vice President Mark Pontoni highlighted several changes he would like the board to make, including issuing bans on cell phones and backpacks in the classrooms, reducing entry points to the school, requiring ID badges and giving administrators more ability to hold students accountable for their actions.
ELHS social studies teacher and ELEA Recruitment and Engagement Chair Ross Gorman also spoke at the Jan. 23 meeting to express “no confidence” in the board’s current policies surrounding school safety and discipline.
Speaking to ELi the day after that meeting, Gorman said he was encouraged by the number of community members who spoke to the board.
“I saw all of our stakeholders, from administration to teachers to parents to students, all speak last night on the same issues,” he said. “I hope that we were heard by the school board and I hope that manifests in some action.”
ELi reported in the fall that the East Lansing Public Schools have so far managed to evade the teacher shortages plaguing schools at state and national levels. However, at Monday’s school board meeting, multiple teachers floated the possibility they might leave the field or ELPS if changes are not made.
Gorman said that ELPS’s strong reputation has helped keep teaching positions staffed. But, he said, teaching is an exhausting profession to begin with, and if staff members do not feel supported, teachers may leave.
“The stresses of feeling like you’re alone in doing some of this work and trying to solve some of these problems becomes insurmountable over the long run,” he said. “I’m seeing a lot of good teachers who are maybe hitting what should be the prime of their career, 10 years in, thinking that this could be the last chance [they] have to get out and into something else.”
“That’s a discussion I have with good colleagues somewhat regularly,” he continued, “albeit not necessarily openly.”
Gorman said sometimes it’s helpful to do a ‘reset’ with policy changes at the start of a semester or school year, but the severity of the issues at ELHS call for immediate action.
He mentioned the ban on cell phones and backpacks in classrooms as changes that could be made now. He said other changes like implementing an ID system and securing entrances would take more time.
Of the four endorsements ELEA made for the board of education election in November, three candidates were elected: Edsall, Terah Chambers and Tali Faris-Hylen. Gorman said he cannot speak to whether ELEA is ready to rethink the decision to endorse those candidates at this time.
UPDATE, 7:35 pm: The East Lansing Board of Education has announced it will hold a special board meeting on Monday, Jan. 30, at 7 p.m. at the East Lansing High School auditorium.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story by Lucas Day featured an incorrect byline. This was the result of a break in our current WordPress technology, as explained by Publisher and Executive Editor Alice Dreger in a recent update of ELi operations.
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