In the third and final installment of responses from those running for the East Lansing Public Schools Board, candidates were asked by ELi what measures they would support to create safe learning environments. Safety was a topic numerous readers asked ELi to put before candidates vying for the four open board seats in the Nov. 8, 2022 election. This and the previous two questions were generated from a survey of readers. Responses for each question were limited to 250 words and the order of responses was chosen in a random drawing.
Here are the previous candidate responses:
Question number 1 asked candidates to describe where they land on the political spectrum.
Question number 2 asked how candidates propose to support rigorous academic curricula in this post-pandemic world.
And here are the responses to question number 3:
People in the East Lansing schools’ community are concerned about the safety of students, teachers and staff in our schools. They are also concerned about incidences of violence, fighting and bullying. What safety measures do you believe are needed to create safer learning environments in ELPS?
We have a responsibility to create and maintain a safe learning environment for our students, teachers and support staff, but I do not believe that it is the role of board members to decide on significant safety changes without significant community input. Solutions for this problem need to be led by students, teachers and staff.
After Uvalde, it’s imperative that we continue this conversation as a community. The Board has recently created a safety committee and that’s a great thing. Any additional safety measures we might add must be community led and have an evidence basis for not disproportionately impacting any racial, ethnic or gender groups.
In candor, this subject has not come up very often in my conversations with the community so far. If this makes your top 3 concerns in the schools, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s important to me to make sure that people are heard if this is an issue for you.
One of the largest issues facing our schools is safety. All our students, teachers, and staff should feel safe in and around all of our schools. Safe from violence, health issues, bullying, and safe to express themselves and be their truest self, without fear of judgment, ridicule or exclusion. Creating an environment where all students feel recognized, respected, and invested in their own success, and the success of the school as a whole is the foundation of school safety. I believe this can be addressed by fostering a culture of inclusion. Violence is frequently born out of a lack of perceived options for conflict resolution. Creating space for students to have involvement with each other and within the district, through extracurricular activities, clubs, and service groups can make our children see how they are an integral part of a larger community. Quashing the “Us vs. Them” mentality that has been perpetuated for generations, and replacing that with the concept that we are all part of the greater “WE.”
I think my previous answer of having more mental health staff on site can be helpful for this. I’ve worked in schools with a large mental health staff and those with only one and the schools that had plenty of staff to support the student’s mental health were calmer and had less violence than ones where students didn’t have an adult to turn to.
In these kinds of situations, I identify first as a parent. Obviously, in this current climate where school shootings occur with increased frequency, ensuring students are safe is a top concern for me. At the same time, as a Black mom of a Black son, I am keenly aware that there are some who see my son as a threat without a second thought and I worry daily also about his vulnerability. During my tenure on the Board, we have prioritized school safety, implementing a number of structural and procedural safety measures at the elementary and secondary levels. What keeps me up at night, though, is the idea that there is any level of safety investment that will “guarantee” our schools to be 100% safe so long as we have inadequate gun control. Accordingly, while we are doing our job in support of school safety at the local level, I will continue to call upon our local, state and federal elected leaders to implement real and significant gun control immediately.
Let me take the rest of my space here to push back against the “dog whistle” political use of the racially coded word “violence” in this question. There is so much I love about this community, which is why I have invested so much in supporting our amazing team of students, teachers, and administrators. However, we can do better than this question and the political messaging it represents.
Greater security and an even-handed application of discipline based on rigorous standards of behavior is needed. It has been said in Board meetings that students of color don’t feel safe with police presence when police were previously at the high school, but no evidence was presented from such students. Perhaps if police officers and/or security personnel of color were in the high school, on whatever frequency or basis was deemed appropriate, this possible issue could be averted. Also, perhaps a committee involving diverse students, teachers, administration and police could meet regularly to address concerns surrounding safety.
I believe we need to continue to invest in relationship building throughout. If you’ve had the privilege of witnessing our student advocates interact with our kids, you see how effective these relationships are. If you have seen our teachers focus more on relationship building vs. “classroom management” you see the difference it truly makes.
We need more adult per child ratios and support for teachers who are the first to note distress. In this vein, I support the hiring of more general education social workers and student advocates.
Additionally, I am pro preventative school discipline vs. punitive discipline to support students struggling. I also support the development of healthy school cultures that work empathetically with children while addressing underlying behavioral concerns including trauma, poverty and academic issues. ELPS staff has taken a lot of Professional Development to support this and as our district leans in, I’m grateful we are in a place where our administrators understand how important this is.
Other candidates on the ballot:
The five ELlPS board candidates who did not respond to these questions are Lind Brown-Wren, Steven J. Davis, Kath Edsall and Tyler Allan Smith.
Editor’s Note: Candidate Mike Feldpausch contacted us on Oct. 4, 2022 to say he had sent replies to ELi’s questions by the deadline. We have found no record of the replies, but are now including his answer above in an order determined by the roll of a die.