School Board Uncertain What MSU Online Instruction Will Mean for ELPS

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

No signs of life at ELPS MacDonald Middle School, as the year begins remotely.

At last night’s East Lansing School Board meeting, board trustees cautioned that MSU’s big announcement – that undergraduate courses will again be online this semester – may not result in ELPS students returning to their own school buildings come September 30.

When President Stanley announced last week that MSU would go remote-only again for undergraduates, he encouraged undergraduates to study from their home bases. That led some to hope that local disease risk would be lessened, such that ELPS might restart in-person classes.

In fact, in the school board’s previous two meetings, the trustees and Superintendent Dori Leyko had talked about the arrival of MSU students from across Michigan and beyond as one reason ELPS was needing to begin the school year remotely.

Last night’s discussion of this issue arose after one person, never publicly identified, wrote in a question to President Erin Graham after public comment had ended. The person asked whether MSU shutting down in-person offerings would change ELPS’s decision about remote versus in-person learning.

The trustees broke their usual rules by bringing forward the question after public comment closed and also by directly engaging with it. Graham has previously treated public comment as a time for citizens to speak without having board members respond.

In the discussion, Graham stated that she still sees reopening ELPS as a risk. She referred to an article that estimated that 24,000 MSU undergraduates may be living in off-campus residences in East Lansing this fall.

But Board Vice President Terah Chambers emphasized that she is “committed to find a solution to bring kids back into the buildings,” focusing particularly on the needs of English language learners, special needs students, and early readers.

Nevertheless, speaking from her experience as a co-chair for one of MSU’s reopening subcommittees, Chambers emphasized that multiple factors come into play in the decision-making process, many of which the school board has no control over.

Trustee Nichole Martin supported the idea of using specific metrics and data for determining reopening, but she also acknowledged that releasing specific benchmarks might mislead parents. She pointed to the recent outbreak at Central Michigan University as an example of how quickly things can change.

Trustee Chris Martin, who has been the most critical of the district’s reopening roadmap, believes that once the district determines its “targets and metrics,” it can “have system to be flexible and nimble.” He believes that modes of instruction could change month by month for the next 12-18 months, depending on how the pandemic plays out.

Trustees Kate Powers and Hillary Henderson were absent from the meeting. Graham has temporarily excused Hilary Henderson from her duties following the sudden and unexpected death of Henderson’s husband Brett.

ELPS students begin their school year today through remote instruction. Many families began easing themselves into the academic year yesterday as they picked up school supplies and devices. But this is all happening under a lot of uncertainty about when in-person instruction will resume.

Nichole Martin took time at last night’s meeting to address rumors and social media posts that suggested that the ELPS School Board is not being straightforward with families about plans for deciding whether to remain online or reopen.

She encouraged parents to reach out to the Board, stating “posting [to social media] isn’t the best option for help.”

Chris Martin seconded Nichole Martin’s call for better communication. (The two Martins on the board are unrelated.) While Chris Martin sees social media “as a place to troubleshoot problems,” he said he also has seen how emails and conversations with families about what is or isn’t working can lead to productive adjustments to planning.

At last night’s meeting, families were also advised that the National School Lunch Program guidelines have changed and meals will only be made available for ELPS students who are eligible for free and reduced meals.

Families must preorder online or by phone. But they can preorder once for the entire semester. For now, parents can pick up at several locations. Drop-off is currently not available but should be in the upcoming weeks. (See a flyer on the program.)

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