News from ELPS: Covid Management, Return-to-Schools, and Marble Construction

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ELHS reopened for in-person learning this month, but how has it been going?

The East Lansing Public Schools’ Board of Education met on Monday evening and heard an update from Superintendent Dori Leyko on Covid management, in-person learning, and the progress of construction at Marble Elementary. Here’s a summary of the meeting, supplemented by additional reporting from ELi.

Testing of staff and students have identified several Covid cases.

According to Leyko, the district has been Covid-testing staff for two weeks and high school students for one week using rapid antigen testing. The test requires a nasal swab that does not go as deep into the nose as PCR nasal swabs. Approximately 100 staff members and 40 students participated, and one staff case plus several student cases of Covid-19 were identified through the testing. The cases were later confirmed with the more accurate PCR testing.

Trustee Debbie Walton asked Leyko if she was at liberty to say if the staff member who contracted Covid-19 had been vaccinated. Since vaccination status is private information protected under the law, Leyko could not provide an answer.

Photo courtesy of Debbie Walton.

Trustee Debbie Walton.

During public comment, parent David Lowry asked what percentage of staff had received a vaccine and whether families are able to find out if their children are coming into contact with unvaccinated staff. Leyko said families could not find out if particular staff had or had not received the vaccine, but she estimated that about 90 percent have received the vaccine.

The trustees also expressed concern over the spread of Covid-19 among ELPS student-athletes. Recently, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced that students involved in sports would have to undergo regular Covid-19 testing beginning April 2 due to an uptick in cases related to schools and sports.

On Wednesday, Mar. 17, Leyko answered a series of questions sent by ELi after our staff noticed that East Lansing High School had reported a few cases and after an outbreak of the U.K variant was identified in Grand Ledge schools.

Leyko told ELi that ELHS teams had been unaffected by the outbreak in Grand Ledge, but had previously been quarantined last month. According to Leyko, high school teams throughout the area have needed to quarantine after exposure or confirmed cases.

“Our junior varsity basketball team was in quarantine for 14 days beginning February 15. Our varsity team was in quarantine for 14 days beginning February 27,” Leyko wrote to ELi.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

ELHS Trojan junior Brevin Jackson (3) against Okemos on March 20, 2021.

This was before the return to in-person learning, which avoided issues of community spread in schools. Families affected were notified.

As of Mar. 17, Leyko confirmed that two ELHS junior varsity and two ELHS varsity basketball players had contracted Covid. The district’s Covid-19 dashboard is available here and includes all cumulative cases identified since the summer.

Now, with in-person education being offered, the district is working with the Ingham County Health Department to complete contact tracing and set quarantine guidelines.

“Close contacts are identified as those individuals who were within 6 ft. of the individual who tested positive for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hr. period,” explained Leyko. “Students are quarantined for 14 days from sports due to the close contact of the activity, but may come out of quarantine after 10 days as long as they have no symptoms and continue to monitor for symptoms on days 11-14.”

At Monday’s meeting, Walton asked if the antigen testing used for ELHS students could be used on athletes even before the April 2 start date of the testing program for athletes. Leyko answered that the turnaround time to hold testing right before games was too small, but since athletes are all ELHS students, they can get tested when testing is open to the entire student body.

Leyko believes the number of students who participate in the rapid antigen testing will increase in upcoming weeks as more students gain parental permission and as students gear-up for group events like prom and graduation.

ELPS is offering more time in the classroom, and more students will be coming back after Spring Break.

Leyko pointed out that Monday had marked the first day that the district offered Mondays as a possible day for in-person learning. Previously, in-person students only met in the buildings Tuesday through Friday and met Mondays virtually. Now, in-person students will have the option of meeting in-person on Monday, and the school day has been extended for 15 minutes.

This came following a Board vote on Friday, Mar. 19 to approve a plan to increase the number of hours spent in-person at the middle and high school levels in order for the district to be eligible for state aid that requires that schools include at least 20 hours of in-person instruction per week.

Beginning the week of April 19, approximately 420 additional students from pre-K through grade 12 will return to in-person learning.

Raymond Holt for ELi

The new Donley playground sat empty in the fall.

The district is currently working with the data to identify any classes where this will cause overcrowding. Leyko said the district will follow the CDC guidelines that call for a minimum of 3-feet of space between students wearing masks. If a classroom cannot meet spacing requirements, a new location or other accommodations will be found.

In other news, Marble is on schedule.

In terms of bond updates, construction at Marble is on time and on budget, according to Leyko. Exterior panels are being added to the building, and the Board unanimously approved the purchase of furniture and fixtures for the new building.

All that means that the new Marble building should be open for the start of the 2021-22 school year.

During the “recognitions” portion of Monday’s meeting, Board Secretary Chris Martin recognized the recent wins of the girls and boys basketball teams as they move forward in the playoffs. (You can see ELi’s coverage of those games here.)

Martin also encouraged the community to visit both Downtown East Lansing and MSUFCU’s virtual student art exhibit to see the work produced by district students.

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