At Monday evening’s meeting, the East Lansing School Board agreed to use several metrics and interpretations of Covid-19 data to determine the feasibility of reopening for in-person instruction in January.
According to a family survey, 60% of students district-wide plan to return in January. Debbie Walton, Elizabeth Guerrero Lyons, and Monica Fink, who won the November School Board Election, will join the Board in January.
Breaking down the metrics
Superintendent Dori Leyko suggested that the Board look at three things: the active cases in school buildings, the local percent positivity rate, and local cases per million.
Leyko provided a graph (included below), developed using information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), as a tool to guide the board as it decides whether in-person instruction is safe.
In terms of percent positivity – the percentage of all administered Covid-19 tests that come back positive – Ingham County falls into Category “A” with a positivity rate of 6.3%. The numbers are more concerning in terms of new cases. Ingham has 237 cases per million, putting it in category D.
Last month, ELPS began recording information on known cases in the district. The dashboard currently shows three “school-associated cases,” meaning that these individuals may have been in an ELPS building while sick. The district also has four known staff cases, one suspected case, and eight individuals in quarantine due to exposure.
Balancing the use of percent positivity and cases per million metrics with active cases, Leyko created a color-coded chart to suggest when schools might operate in person.
Currently, ELPS falls into the middle column since there are “known cases” but “no ongoing transmission.”
“Ongoing transmission,” as suggested in the third column, is defined as three or more cases within 14 days with no known source outside of school.
Currently, the percent positivity rate and cases per million metrics, on their own, lead to different decisions.
In terms of percent positivity rate (shown above), ELPS could reopen with significant safety precautions in place. However, the data on cases per million (below) suggests in-person instruction is currently dangerous.
Where does this leave ELPS in terms of reopening in January? Leyko said erring on the side of caution is one option, but she also said that ELPS would carefully consult with Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail about the local Covid-19 situation.
Leyko also recommended that the district consider track the 14-day trend in new cases (shown below).
According to Leyko, ELPS and other districts across Michigan are required to consider hospitalization and death rates at the state and local level before reopening.
Currently, Michigan is experiencing a significant rise in Covid-19 cases. On Monday, the State recorded more than 6,000 cases on Saturday and Ingham County reported 102. Ingham County has 108 hospitalized Covid-19 patients; 12 are in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Some of these patients are from other counties.
Leyko acknowledged that other practical considerations regarding staffing will play a role. She noted that other districts in the area have had to close when just a few cases have emerged because too many staff and faculty members had to quarantine.
The Board did not formally vote to approve these metrics. Instead, the trustees endorsed them but left them open to change should more information become available.
Dr. Terah Chambers called the information provided “a tool, not a contract” for considering whether to reopen. Other members of the Board agreed and thanked Leyko for skillfully pulling together multiple data sources and recommendations into one document that was clear.
The Board watched a presentation from the Mental Health Advisory Committee, whose goal is to help with social and emotional development by creating consistency and a common language for discussing these issues.
Programs are implemented at the building level. In the previous school year, the MHAC implemented an Ele’s Place Grief Group, a youth mental health first aid program, trauma-informed personal development for teachers and a student mental health club.
Mood meters, which allow students to check in and explain how they feel in terms of mental health, have been used during the pandemic. The MHAC is working to have more resources available to students during the pandemic.
There was also a public hearing on improving the sexual education curriculum to include more information on active consent after students struggled to discern if active consent had been given in various situations.
If approved, the district will purchase supplemental books that present various scenarios that students can then discuss with teachers to determine if and how consent was given. Chambers applauded the books for being assessable and presenting diversity among the couples.