The first East Lansing Public Schools (ELPS) board meeting of the year saw the installation of two new and two returning members, election of officers, parent concerns, and a hint of future district policies.
ELPS Superintendent Dori Leyko called the Monday, Jan. 9, meeting to order and acted as chair for the first several minutes until officer elections could be held.
The first item of business was installation of the four newly-elected members of the board, returning members Terah Chambers and Kath Edsall, and new faces Amanda Cormier and Tali Faris-Hylen. Cormier and Faris-Hylen brought children and partners to witness the moment.
The meeting’s main moment of contention came with the election of officers. Chambers made a motion that included a full slate of officers: Edsall as president, herself as vice president, Debbie Walton as treasurer and Elizabeth Lyons as secretary.
During time to discuss Chambers’ motion, board member Monica Fink inquired about the criteria leading to the slate. Edsall responded she was not aware of any and Leyko pointed to officer position descriptions within board policies.
Just as a roll call vote was about to be conducted, Fink interrupted, asking her peers if anyone else wanted to volunteer for a position.
“I think the proper process is that there’s a motion on the floor that needs to be voted on,” Chambers said. “And certainly, if that motion doesn’t pass, then someone else can put forward a different motion.”
After this discussion, a vote was held and the slate of officers was approved by a vote of 6-1. The lone dissent came from Fink, who had served as board secretary during the 2022 term.
During public comment, two parents discussed pressing issues they noticed at their children’s schools.
Nichole Biber, mother of a student at Robert L. Green Elementary School and that school’s librarian, railed against concrete outdoor learning spaces being installed at the district’s elementary schools. These spaces were built with funds remaining from the 2017 school bond and approved by the board on Feb. 14, 2022.
“A group of parents and teachers and I [came] forward with a plan for just over $3,000 for gardens,” she said. “But that isn’t what happened. What happened was over $200,000 [spent] at every school and it’s concrete and it’s steel-roofed.”
Bieber, who is currently a finalist for an open seat on the East Lansing City Council, encouraged the board to rethink the learning centers and incorporate plantings, and more environmental and natural components.
Ludie Jones, mother of an East Lansing High School (ELHS) student, spoke about her school safety concerns.
Jones said fights had been breaking out in the school and specific students had been targeted by a group and, despite several parents reaching out to school administration, no action had been taken to ease the situation.
“I don’t feel like we’re being heard,” Jones said. “There have been several incidents dating back to last week. It’s always the same group of kids and we just don’t feel like things are really taken care of like we would like them to. And even there’s not enough support in the school and these things are still slipping through the cracks. I guess I just want to know what are the next steps.
“I’m a really involved mom [but] all parents aren’t involved,” she added. “I can’t solve the world. Then I have to come here and try to figure out a plan of action. I don’t know that I want to send my son to school, honestly.”
At times, Jones held long pauses, looking to members of the board for some response.
Board President Kath Edsall made a point of privilege, asking Jones, whom she had spoken to earlier that day on the phone, for suggestions of resources she had identified in that previous conversation.
The rest of the meeting moved quickly with the board easily adopting its meeting calendar, the district’s religious and cultural observance calendar, and a bid to replace portions of the high school’s roof that sit above the gymnasium and pool.
Edsall also indicated that at the board’s next meeting on Jan. 23 members will vote on a revised policy concerning transgender students. The updated draft aims to have more inclusive language than the original and to provide greater privacy and other protections for students.
She also said she will be contacting board members regarding their interests in committee assignments.
“[On] committees in general, as the president I will send out an email ASAP asking for your desired committees,” Edsall told board members.
Generally, board members serve on two to three committees. Committee assignments and schedules will be discussed more at the next meeting set for Jan. 23.
Note: This article was updated on Jan. 24, 2022, to add more material about Ludie Jones’ comments.