The East Lansing School Board approved the proposed Preparedness and Response Plan for Michigan Safe Start on Monday evening. But the vote was not unanimous, with ELPS Board Secretary Chris Martin casting a vote of “nay.”
The preliminary plan had been revealed two weeks ago at the July 27 meeting – a meeting at which nearly two dozen parents and community members provided feedback. Many called then for the Board to reconsider its option to begin the school year remotely, focusing on the difficulties that remote learning pose to young children, students with IEPs and 504 plans, and children learning English as a non-native language.
The approved plan will keep students learning remotely through September 30, but most likely substantially longer.
The plan presented by Superintendent Dori Leyko provides three separate scenarios: education for while East Lansing is in phases 1-3 of Michigan Safe Start, for phase 4, and for phase 5.
Mid-Michigan is currently in phase 4, which does permit in-person instruction. But ELPS’s plan for phase 4 includes no provisions for in-person education, instead opting for “100% online instruction by ELPS teachers using ELPS Board-approved curriculum.”
In East Lansing, plans for phase 4 essentially look the same as the plans for phases 1-3 in which in-person education is prohibited. It is possible that ELPS will allow athletics and after-school activities to involve meeting in-person, pending advice from the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA). ELPS will make its decision no later than August 20.
Leyko said review of the policy to only allow remote learning during phase 4 will begin on September 21. A decision to move in-person classes—possibly during phase 4—will be made by September 30 and will be dependent on phases, public health data, and state guidance.
The finalized plan includes some feedback—gathered through meetings with parents, teachers, staff, and administrators—after the July 27 meeting, according to Leyko.
The most notable change was the proposed schedule for students. Elementary school students will engage in synchronous learning in the mornings—beginning at 8 a.m.—while middle school and high school students will have synchronous classes in the afternoons.
Students will be expected to complete asynchronous lessons when they are not engaged synchronously. Leyko stated that this schedule will hopefully address issues related to childcare and internet bandwidth.
Students will receive letter grades and attendance will be taken regularly.
Additionally, the Mental Health Advisory Committee will “develop a daily wellness screener (“mood meter”), a checklist of things to “look-for” during online instruction that may indicate the need for social-emotional support.
The State of Michigan mandates that some in-person education must occur during phase 5, but ELPS has yet to decide if it will opt for a fully in-person or a hybrid approach. The transition will take two to three weeks to complete and will prioritize “youngest learners, special populations, and transition year students (grades 6 and 9).”
The phase 5 plan includes some health and safety measures, such as mask wearing for all preK-12 students, staff, and faculty who are medically able to do so; frequent hand washing; and physical distancing. Symptom assessments and temperature checks are encouraged.
Families can opt to remain with online learning through the end of phase 5 if they believe that is best for their family.
ELHS teacher and East Lansing Education Association President Tim Akers endorsed the plan as “the lesser of two evils,” citing data that he believes supports the idea of beginning school remotely. He cited a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics that found 97,000 children became infected with COVID-19 in the last two weeks. He encouraged the trustees to vote for the current plan.
Parents of district students called in—some endorsing the plan, others voicing concerns about the demands of synchronous learning and keeping children indoors without any socialization.
Sarah Reckhow, a parent of two ELPS students and a professor of urban politics at MSU, stated that “we could be doing better” to bring the most vulnerable students back in person, referring to plans in New York City, Detroit, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The trustees mostly spoke highly of plan, often thanking Leyko and the ELPS community for its hard work.
Vice President Terah Chambers endorsed the plan for its flexibility but admitted that she “sees reasonable positions on both sides.” She explained that she did not see the youngest and most vulnerable students meeting in person as completely safe but expressed a desire to find “safer” options for these students to return.
Secretary Chris Martin spoke the longest and most directly criticized the plan.
“I support holding off until September 30,” he said, referring to how the influx of MSU students could lead to an outbreak.
But he ultimately voted against the plan, stating, “I don’t see plan for bringing students back, just a plan to make a plan later.”
Martin voiced his frustration that ELPS was not using all resources at its disposal, referring to East Lansing’s, “community of experts,” “financial resources,” and “state of the art facilities.”
Martin believes ELPS needs concrete plans for how it might return—even if in phase 5—now. “We need to speak concretely about keeping teachers and students safe,” he said. Teachers just “want to know the plan.”
The phase 5 plan does include some basic health and safety measures, but Martin believed that more specific detail was needed.
With the plan approved, ELPS families should expect to begin school remotely on Tuesday, August 25. The first week will function as an orientation.
As per the phase 4 plan, families should also receive supplies and Chromebooks for students grades 3-12 and iPads for students K-2.
At the meeting, the School Board approved the spending of $510,300 for Chromebooks (computers), opting to go with Staples instead of spending $466,029 through a different initial supplier because Staples is estimating a 3-4 week delivery and the other supplier, SEHI, has a 3-5 month delay.