ELPS Leaders Cut Police Presence from Schools, Make Stronger Commitment to Equity

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Alice Dreger for ELi

East Lansing Schools Superintendent Dori Leyko at Monday's virtual School Board meeting.

Seventeen administrators of East Lansing Public Schools have announced they will, as a team, eliminate police presence from the schools and also eliminate the school resource officers, hire more Black teachers, and make other changes “in response to the senseless murder of George Floyd and the longstanding racial injustice and inequities that exist across the nation and within our schools and school community.”

The group includes all the district’s principals, the athletic director as well as various other directors, and Superintendent Dori Leyko, who read the statement at Monday’s School Board meeting and sent it out to families yesterday. Leyko said it was penned in collaboration with members of the school board.

The statement opened by stating that ELPS is a “team of predominantly white administrators that does not reflect the demographics of our student body.” ELi reported on June 2 that while only 56 percent of ELPS students are white, 96 percent of ELPS teachers are white, as are 94 percent of the administrators – that is, everyone signing the statement except High School Principal Andy Wells, who is African American.

East Lansing High School Principal Andy Wells and his wife at Homecoming 2019 (photo by Raymond Holt for ELi).

The new district goals aim to create “a sense of safety, belonging and inclusion,” while acknowledging “that this cannot occur until our Black students feel this way.”

The goals address growing national concern over the role of police in society. ELPS will no longer invite regular police in buildings during school hours, ceasing to employ a School Resource Officer (an ELPD police officer assigned part-time to the schools).

The administrators also reconsidered how ELPS will implement consequences for behavior. They announced that they would pursue restorative justice instead of exclusionary actions such as suspension, which has been shown to be used disproportionately against Black students.

Addressing lack of proportional representation among faculty

ELPS administrators say they will “take intentional steps” to hire Black teachers and staff. Their statement drew upon research that shows “Black students who have at least one Black teacher are more likely to stay in school and go to college.”

ELPS administrators also plan to address disproportional representation. ELi’s reporting from a week earlier showing that teachers in district schools were not representative of the student body also suggested that representation had backslid in recent years.

The Marble Equity Team (MET) had written the School Board in January 2019 regarding its concerns about the lack of diversity among ELPS faculty. The MET of Marble Elementary School has for years been a unique organization in ELPS in being a school-based stakeholder group committed to actions aimed at equity.

In a detailed statement to ELi this week, the MET said that “increasing the number of teachers of color is going to require progressive, mindful and targeted hiring practices, intentional preparation, and ongoing support by the Board of Education and superintendent.”

The MET provided a list of actionable measures to increase representation among ELPS teachers, including expanding recruitment to Wayne State University, Eastern Michigan University and historically Black colleges and universities. MET also recommended making hiring committees more diverse and supporting professional development that addresses issues of racial equity.

The administrators’ statement called for teachers already on faculty in ELPS to participate in additional professional development on implicit bias, microaggressions and privilege.

Equity teams will now form in all East Lansing public schools

According to the administrators’ statement, all schools will now follow the example of Marble by forming equity teams, which will participate in drafting the district’s racial equity policy, which has already been in the works.

The Marble Equity Team has hosted public events like film screenings with panel discussions.

Equity teams can play an important role not only by shaping the atmosphere in schools but also by holding administrators, teachers, and the School Board accountable. MET told ELi that it would like to see the School Board advocate for policy changes at the local, state, and national level.

In particular, MET would like to see the School Board support loan forgiveness programs and professional development to support diversity in teaching as well as to call for changes in how teachers and principals are licensed.

Curricular changes are anticipated

The administrators stated that he curriculum at ELPS will also reflect the renewed commitment to racial justice. Curriculum committees will include “Black and brown students and adults” to ensure that “Black and brown people are represented in our curriculum in honest, true and relevant ways.”

Outside the classroom, the administration will continue to partner with the Minority Student Achievement Network, sending teachers and students to conferences. Administrators will also attend meetings of the Black Student Union when invited to better understand the concerns and needs to Black students.

What School Board members had to say

After Leyko read the prepared statement from employed administrators on Monday night, some members of the School Board expressed desire and willingness to go beyond what was outlined in the statement. (Trustee Hillary Henderson was absent.)

Board Treasurer Kath Edsall, who said she became involved with ELPS leadership over a decade ago after one African-American student was tased and another sustained permanent disabilities after being denied an inhaler, called the statement a necessary first step.

School Board Treasurer Kath Edsall at Monday’s virtual meeting.

Edsall also proposed the possibility of the Board attending a racial bias training retreat. Board Trustee Nichole Martin enthusiastically endorsed the idea of a retreat and also called for the Board to proactively set goals regarding racial equity, noting that most policies and resolutions have been in response to local and national issues.

The Board also recognized that creating racial equity at ELPS requires self-awareness and community support. Both Board Secretary Chris Martin and Trustee Kate Powers mentioned that White people should use this time to listen to Black teachers, students, and neighbors and reflect on their personal histories, values, and perspectives in terms of the wider context.

Board Vice President Terah Chambers, the only Black board member, reflected on how having Black teachers influenced her son’s enthusiasm for learning, but said that his two Black teachers have since left the district and she is not sure he will see another in his time at ELPS.

School Board Vice President Terah Chambers at Monday’s virtual meeting.

She continued by thanking Leyko and the administrators for their work and called upon the White community to participate in creating a more equitable district, even though it may be uncomfortable work.

President Erin Graham echoed Chambers comments, calling for ELPS to build an “environment where we are both hiring and retaining Black teachers.”

“I don’t like to make mistakes. But, this work requires us to be willing to dive in wholeheartedly and know we will make mistakes,” said Graham. “But we must be committed to dismantling racist systems.”

Read the administrators’ statement here and the Marble Equity Team’s response to ELi’s questions from earlier this month here.

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