Superintendent Dori Leyko announced on Tuesday, Feb. 15, that masks will be around a bit longer following a conversation among trustees of the East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education at its meeting on Monday.
Other changes, including the addition of a Black American History course at East Lansing High School and the construction of outdoor learning spaces at the elementary schools, are coming to the district following Monday’s meeting
The trustees endorsed the idea of continuing to enforce a mask mandate at district schools after the Ingham County Health Department rescinded two emergency orders.
On Feb. 10, the Ingham County Health Department announced an end to two emergency orders effective Feb. 19, related to Covid mitigation in schools. School districts in Ingham no longer have to follow the orders’ quarantine and self isolation procedures, and it will now be at the discretion of each district to require masks inside their buildings.
In her Feb. 15 letter to families, Superintendent Dori Leyko announced that masking will continue until at least mid-April when the policy will be reevaluated. In explaining the decision, Leyko referenced reasons made by the Board the night before for keeping the policy.
The Covid situation in Ingham County had improved, but the CDC and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services still recommend masking in public indoor settings.
At the meeting on Feb. 14, as Leyko noted that school-related Covid-19 cases are “as low as they’ve been for quite some time,” each trustee took turns expressing their desire to keep a universal mask mandate in place throughout the district.
Norm Scott, President of the East Lansing Education Association, the union that represents district teachers, spoke on behalf of ELPS teachers during public comment to thank the district for its layers of mitigation that have kept staff safe. He communicated the membership’s approval for keeping masking in place at this time.
Leyko shared that according to a study completed by the Lansing State Journal, ELPS ranked low in comparison to other districts in the area when the number of students enrolled was compared to the number of positive cases in the district.
Leyko explained that the amount of testing the district performs has been effective in keeping rates of transmission low in ELPS, but testing, she said, is also something that increases the number of positive cases identified.
If the district chose to end mandatory masking, it would no longer be able to participate in the “Test to Stay” program, which allows schools to combine contact tracing and testing to keep staff and students in school if they have been exposed to Covid-19.
President Kate Powers said a formal decision will be made prior to Feb. 19. Regardless, Leyko stated that she plans to re-evaluate the district’s decision in the weeks in April following spring break.
ELPS has increased spectator limits for school events after instituting limits during the Omicron surge. Each space has its own spectator limit, and electronic tickets can be reserved prior to events.
The pandemic took a toll on students’ standardized testing scores.
In accordance with a recent state law requiring the Board to be updated regarding the district’s benchmark testing, Assistant Superintendent Glenn Mitcham was at the meeting on Monday to provide an update.
“East Lansing students, like any other student in the country and around the globe, have felt serious effects from the pandemic,” said Mitcham as he presented scores that are lower than the district would hope.
Mitcham explained that this test, taken by students in kindergarten through eighth grade, is just one measurement of success. While Mitcham and Trustee Debbie Walton conveyed their doubts about the benefits of standardized testing, Mitcham said these results in combination with other data allow the district to identify individuals in need of help, create improvement plans for specific subjects and subgroups of students, and predict potential outcomes for other standardized testing that the district is required to participate in.
Leyko made sure to explain that even if the scores stay the same from the fall to spring exams, that still displays student growth because the level of difficulty of the exam increases throughout the school year.
The Board approved the introduction of a new course offering for high school students: Black American History.
“This has been in the works for a long time, and teachers and administration and the Board have been excited for some time,” said Trustee Terah Chambers.
Board member Elizabeth Lyons said that there has been a lot of attention and resources put into the creation of this course that will provide “a whole spectrum of black history,” for high school juniors or seniors who wish to participate in the course.
The Board voted to approve this course that will become an option as soon as this fall.
Other important information was also shared.
ELi reported on Wells’ retirement and legacy with ELPS on Monday morning, and Leyko announced the open position to fill Wells’ shoes as he is set to retire this June.
While a formal recognition for Wells is still in the works, the district plans to hold a community event this spring so he can receive well wishes from the many lives he touched during his 33 years with ELPS.
ELPS outdoor facility upgrades are set to begin as early as May 5 after the Board approved a contract bid. Most projects will start construction around May and June and are slated for substantial completion before Aug. 15, 2022.
The Board also approved changes to its contract with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local #324, several budget amendments, and a parking lot lease agreement.