Student safety and achievement, finances and expenditures, and curriculums and policies were all addressed by the East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education at its Dec. 13 meeting – its first following the school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, just 84 miles away from East Lansing.
East Lansing High School’s Student Representative Annie McIlhagga, Superintendent Dori Leyko, and Secretary Chris Martin all shared words to honor the four students that lost their lives on Nov. 30.
During her update to the Board, McIlhagga reminded everyone of the tremendous turnout ELHS saw at a walk out at ELHS, held following the shooting in Oxford .
At the Board meeting, McIlhagga reread the speech she first shared at the walk out that she helped organize. In it, she pleaded with the ELHS administration to enhance student safety by supporting student mental health instead of relying on uniformed police officers or introducing metal detectors – moves that McIlhagga believes would make many students uncomfortable.
“My biggest push is please don’t spend that money on making our students feel scared to walk into school, spend it on making sure our students know they have people to talk to,” said McIlhagga.
Following the murder of George Floyd, the district ended its use of resource officers from the East Lansing Police Department and outlined other steps for the district to create “a sense of safety, belonging and inclusion” for all students. Administrators also advocated for the use of restorative justice instead of exclusionary punishments whenever possible.
Leyko reiterated McIlhagga’s philosophy of increasing advocate presence on campus by noting that the district’s, “efforts and resources have been put toward adding individuals and personnel that kids can build relationships with [to ensure] they have at least one trusted person they can go to.”
Leyko then pointed out that the district has spent some Covid relief money to hire one new counselor and one new full-time social worker at the high school, one new counselor at the middle school, and one new social worker for the elementary schools.
At the meeting, Martin shared a video of ELHS Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Strings playing Oxford High School’s fight song in response to the call from Oxford’s music department asking bands across Michigan to play their fight song in support of the community’s tragedy, strength, and resilience.
The School Board also heard an update about ongoing curriculum reviews and adopted a new policy handbook.
One curriculum review was initiated after a social studies teacher at MacDonald Middle School was put on non-disciplinary administrative leave after asking students to answer questions from the perspective of an enslaved person. After investigation, ELi discovered that versions of this assignment have been taught to students since at least 2012 from a curriculum that was approved for the district’s eighth-grade social studies course in 2006.
At the Dec. 13 meeting, Assistant Superintendent Glenn Mitcham, who oversees curriculum for the district, described the process, timeline, and curriculums being updated during his presentation to the Board.
Mitcham is also preparing for a new middle school science curriculum and a new reading and language arts program for the elementary schools.
Mitcham noted that, “in a perfect world, [there would be] a new curriculum every six to seven years,” suggesting that these courses and materials do have a shelf life. Right now, the district is focused on upgrading those subjects that need it the most. Mitcham also pointed out the price of adopting a new curriculum and associated materials: approximately $100,000 for middle school curriculums and between $300,000-$350,000 for elementary schools.
The district convened committees to narrow down the curriculum options, and pilot programs for each proposed curriculum will begin in January 2022. Families will be invited to participate in a review of the curriculum in April 2022. You can see Mitcham’s presentation, including process and timeline details, starting at the 51:00 minute mark here.
The School Board also voted to approve the adoption of the new policy manual, “with the exception of Policy 5207 Anti-Bullying,” which, under Michigan law, calls for a specific hearing in order to update it. A hearing will be held in early 2022.
Board President Terah Chambers has been on the Policy Committee for four years and stated, “We have always run up against outdated policy language.” The language, Chambers explained, inhibited the committee from taking action, “even making simple changes.”
The policy handbook is from Thrun Law Firm, P.C., which also serves as legal counsel for the district. Thrun created a handbook for Michigan schools that is compliant with Michigan law. And, despite the price tag – approximately $7,000 to adopt and $2,500/year for annual updates – ELPS worked with Thrun to format a handbook that caters to the specific needs of ELPS.
More information on Thrun’s initial presentation on its handbook to the Board’s Policy Committee in 2020 is available here.
Chambers reiterated that there is still a significant amount of fine tuning to be done to the handbook in the coming months, but that work should be complete by the start of the 2022-2023 school year.
Financial concerns, including the final chapter of the Midwest Wall saga, were also addressed.
The Board voted to approve a takeover agreement, which included payment of the final amount owed to Midwest Wall Company, LLC. The Board terminated one of its contracts with Midwest Wall in November 2020 after it failed to complete punch list items at Whitehills and Robert L. Green (then Pinecrest) elementary schools in a timely manner.
When the Board terminated the contract, Midwest Wall found another contractor to “takeover” its work. The amount owed ended up costing ELPS less than the original projected cost agreed to with Midwest Wall.
ELPS had terminated another contract in 2019 with Midwest Wall following construction delays at Donley and Glencairn elementary schools.
At the Dec. 13 meeting, Julie Thomas-Beckett, the Vice President of the Board of East Lansing Educational Foundation (ELEF), presented a check for teacher grants to the tune of $47,591.47. Some of the money will go toward bringing more culturally diverse books to schools.
During public comment, two students and a parent spoke on behalf of the ELHS Robotics Team about their desire to apply for a grant that could potentially award the team $4,500, a sum the speakers all expressed is much needed in order to expand the club. The Robotics Team asked why ELPS rejected their request to apply for the grant and if the district would reconsider its decision. No response was publicly given by the Board or superintendent at the meeting.
As public comment continued, five parents advocated for upgrading the plans to renovate the high school’s tennis courts by adding two additional courts for a total of ten courts. They argued that this would allow for more tournaments to be held at ELHS and for more participation on teams. They also advised the Board to reconsider the plans to include post-tensioned concrete, saying it would cut back on future maintenance costs and make the courts to be considered higher quality.
Secretary Martin, who chairs the Board’s Facilities Committee, said he was interested in learning more about these possible changes but not to let the plans for updating the tennis courts this summer be derailed by new changes that the district may or may not be able to budget for.
At the meeting, several Model UN students spoke about what the club means to them and their experience in high school. Recently, 29 students from ELHS went to the Lansing Center for Model UN where over 200 students from the Midwest participated. East Lansing is proud to congratulate five award winners.