With ELPS Still Not Providing Organized Education, School Board Will Meet

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

East Lansing's MacDonald Middle School sits empty as the statewide closure continues.

Today marks four weeks of Michigan children being home from school under Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also marks the start of the fifth week with no mandatory instruction in East Lansing Public Schools.

With some parents growing frustrated, the ELPS School Board is set to meet tonight by webinar starting at 7 p.m. Members of the public can speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. Details are provided in this PDF:

Just before 8 p.m. last night, Easter Sunday, ELPS Superintendent Dori Leyko sent out an update with a schedule now indicating that this week, East Lansing teachers will begin “planning, preparation and collaboration” for distance learning.

Next week (April 20-24) is set aside for teachers and students to “connect and establish relationships.” The week of April 27 will see “key concepts reviewed.” Finally, on May 4, “new learning” will commence, with just about a month left in the school year at that point.

How does ELPS’s status compare to other districts in Ingham County?

Haslett Public Schools Superintendent Steven L. Cook and his team have already planned for students to resume education in that district a week from today, on April 20. This week is serving as an orientation week for Haslett district families and students to “become familiar and use new remote learning platforms” and “explore online resources and materials.”

For the remainder of this school year, Haslett students will spend time completing self-paced work and then meet with teachers virtually to discuss their progress. ELPS has not yet explained what form its curriculum will take.

Leaders of the Lansing School District have specifically expressed concern about lost instructional time, telling parents and students, “Each year, the National Center for Education Statistics estimates students in grades 3-8 lose 20 to 50 percent of their learning during summer vacation. If that amount of backslide is possible in just three months, imagine what could happen in five!”

The Lansing School District does not yet have a set instructional plan, but it has communicated some details to parents. Families have been told they should expect students to continue their education “online, through printed packets of work, phone calls, mail, or through other innovative means.”

The Lansing School District has also now provided information on procuring access to low cost and free internet services. (Some providers have lowered rates and/or expanded free access during the pandemic.) In terms of “material and device distribution,” ELPS’s update says only this: “details coming soon!”

Meanwhile, Okemos has been taking an approach similar to East Lansing’s, stating on their website, “Until we are able to ensure all students can equitably access instruction, we cannot require online instruction and/or distance learning to count for grades or credit.” Parents and students can find optional online learning material on that district’s website.

These variations show that responses have been uneven since March 13, when the governor, whose children attend ELPS, announced that all K-12 schools would close from March 16 through April 5. Since then, ELPS students have only been provided with optional assignments. Superintendent Dori Leyko has argued that since it was possible that some families faced connectivity issues, remote learning could not be conducted online.

Much to the chagrin of Whitmer, in March the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) similarly stated, “there is no mechanism to earn instructional time during a period of mandated school closure.” In the statement, MDE argued that remote learning during the shutdown could constitute a civil rights violation since not all students could participate and have their educational needs met.  

But before ordering schools to transition to remote instruction for the remainder of the school year on April 2, Whitmer publicly expressed her displeasure with MDE’s statement, vowing to find some way to make remote learning count. And in her order for schools to transition to remote learning, Whitmer permitted instruction through online activities, hard copies of work distributed to families, or a hybrid approach.

For her part, on April 2 Leyko wrote to ELPS families, explaining, “District leaders have been exploring options and will continue our development of this plan by involving multiple stakeholders. The plan will also include time for teacher and staff training, collaboration, planning and device distribution. Per the [governor’s order], our deadline for implementing a continuous learning plan is April 28, and we will thoughtfully and intentionally develop this plan before we roll it out.”

Now, with a little over two weeks to go to the deadline, ELPS families have still not received much information on how their children will be learning going forward, and students continue to receive only optional work.

Leyko did not respond to ELi’s request for comment, sent last Thursday. ELi will be covering tonight’s School Board meeting.

See a run-down of all of ELi’s special COVID-19 reporting.

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