School Board Pushes Back Possible Reopening, and Fires Same Contractor as Last Year

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Raymond Holt for ELi

Unfinished work at Glencairn Elementary School in Dec. 2019, around the time the School Board terminated the contract with Midwest Wall. Now the district has terminated the company's contract for the Whitehills and Pinecrest schools.

The East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education met on Monday night for a relatively short meeting where it approved a lengthy action-item agenda. That agenda included the plan for return to in-person learning and also firing a construction subcontractor who the board also fired last year.

Return to School

Under state law, ELPS must develop a plan of how it will handle education during the pandemic and vote to recertify the plan every month. On Monday, the Board held its most recent vote on renewing the Continuity of Learning plan.

Although the Board recertified the plan, it had one very important change: Students will return no earlier than Jan. 19, 2021. Previously, ELPS planned for students in grades K-5 to return to in-person learning on Jan. 4 and middle and high school students on Jan. 19, if conditions allowed. (The plan allows for students to return to school in January depending on certain public health metrics related to the pandemic.)

Superintendent Dori Leyko said that she felt keeping the Jan. 4 start date for younger students was “disingenuous” and feared families might plan for something that was realistically not going to happen.

As ELi reported last week, Covid-19 case numbers are on the rise, and there are fears that local hospitals may soon reach capacity. This could push back further a return to in-person learning.

School Board Secretary Chris Martin noted that some parents had expressed concern about a return on Jan. 4, arguing that it was too close to the holidays. The fear is that children who visit relatives might contract the disease and return to school contagious without exhibiting symptoms.

Terminating a contract with Midwest Wall . . . again.

The Board voted to terminate a contract with Midwest Wall Company, LLC because of failure to complete construction at the new Pinecrest and Whitehills elementary schools by Nov. 18. According to Leyko and Dave Warner from Clark Construction Company (the general contractor), Midwest Wall still had roughly 30 tasks to complete in addition to punch lists – the final wrap up elements of construction.

Leyko told the Board that even though Midwest Wall was promising to get the work done, she cannot have faith in any timeline the subcontractor proposes. The company has been aware that these tasks needed to be completed since the summer.

ELPS ran into similar issues when Midwest Wall fell behind in wrapping up construction at Glencairn and Donley. The Board also terminated the company’s contract then. ELi spoke with the owner of Midwest Wall who blamed “decisions made outside of my control.”  

Warner clarified that Midwest Wall will not be involved in any part of the construction of the new Marble school and that the company currently working at Marble will be given a walk-through of Whitehills and Pinecrest to consider taking on the task of finishing construction at those locations.

What else happened at the meeting?

After a second public hearing, the Board voted to approve the addition of new affirmative consent content to the sexual education curriculum to include more information on active consent. This comes after students struggled to discern if active consent counted as having been given in various situations.

The district will now purchase supplemental materials that present various scenarios that students can then discuss with teachers to better understand sexual consent.

The Board also approved the religious and cultural calendar for 2020-2023. Outgoing School Board President Erin Graham, who worked on the calendar, thanked local religious leaders for their assistance. The calendar may be amended in the future since the dates of some religious occasions are tentative and may change in the future.

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