Some Parents Withdrawing Students from ELPS, Saying Online Education Not Working

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

An empty playground in East Lansing.

At Monday’s meeting, the East Lansing Public School Board voted to extend online learning through the end of October, but most trustees sided with the parents who spoke during public comment to vocalize their frustrations with online learning. The Board joined with parents to call for a plan for returning to in-person learning as some parents explained why made the decision to withdraw their students from ELPS and pursue other avenues for education.

A plan made by Superintendent Dori Leyko will be made public in the Oct. 11 weekly update to families and will be taken up by the Board at their Oct. 12 meeting.

In the meantime, some students with special learning needs may begin returning for limited in-person instruction in mid-October.

But, for some families, the plan is too little too late.

Why are families leaving ELPS?

Several parents explained that they had removed their children from ELPS because the current online learning system wasn’t working. 

When explaining why he decided to pursue private instruction for his youngest child, Brian Titus cited the district’s lack of response to family feedback and “lack of creativity” in pursuing partial in-person instruction, outdoor instruction, or support aid.

Online learning was an emotional challenge for his child made more difficult since Titus and his partner are both full-time professionals working from home. He is frustrated by the lack of improvement to the curriculum, which included only one hour of synchronous instruction.

Titus suggested that his family was not alone in facing these issues, referring to parents leaving jobs, passing up promotions, and paying to form pods to cope with the situation.

Jada Phelps, a mother of two students at Donley and one at ELHS, said that she had placed her second-grader in a charter school, which she admitted was a tough decision. Phelps wanted to support public education by keeping her child enrolled, recognizing the financial impact students leaving the district could have but said it was not the best decision for her child.

While acknowledging that the professional development necessary for facilitating quality online education takes time, she said that parents needed more resources and guidance about how to help their children succeed in the new learning environment.

Likewise, Joshua Barber, a candidate for the School Board, said that he enrolled his son in an in-person kindergarten transition program since Barber and his wife work full-time. His son attends that during the day then completes his online kindergarten assignments from ELPS in the evenings.

Other parents, such as Victor Chernetsky, called for a plan for returning to in-person education since he cannot afford other educational avenues as an international graduate student.

The Survey Says

On Sunday, Leyko released the data from a survey asking families about how they felt about returning to in-person learning.

While many parents have been vocal about the deficiencies of online learning, the survey’s results indicate a plurality of families support it. 

Survey data for all grade levels at ELPS on whether families would like to return to in-person learning.

The aggregate data for the entire district shows that 36 percent of families would send their children back for half days or longer, 18 percent would if additional measures besides those listed were taken, and the remaining 46 percent would prefer to stay online.

When asked what would make families more comfortable returning, the majority want to see an improvement in conditions related to COVID-19. Forty-one percent said they would return their children to in-person learning “when local COVID-19 data and conditions improve” and another 25 percent said “when the region is moved to Phase 5.”

Nearly 30 percent want to wait until a vaccine is available. 

Survey data for all grade levels at ELPS, asking what variables factor into decision-making for return to in-person learning.

When data was broken down by elementary, middle, and high school, little variation existed in the responses, which fell within a margin of +/-2 percentage points.

During public comment, Kristin McIllhagga, criticized the response data for not showing responses by race, ethnicity, and location, stating that those who have been struggling the most with online learning may not have been able to respond.

The Outcome 

Although the Board expressed its desire to see a plan, it did endorse staying online through the end of October — save for Trustee Chris Martin. 

The conclusion they reached was that while staying online for October makes sense given the number of COVID-19 cases in the area, the development of a plan for returning was imperative.

Martin stated that remaining online was smart given the number of cases in the area but explained that he was holding out his vote because a plan to return to the classroom has not yet been proposed. 

Martin, who voted against the plan unveiled in August for similar reasons, hoped that his no vote would encourage accountability for developing a plan by the next Board meeting and show parents that he was listening to their concerns.

Trustee Hilary Henderson said that families wanted a choice and expressed concern that ELPS has “a little bit of an issue here” with mental health, referring to comments made by parents about the isolation their children feel and the struggles they face with online learning.

Trustee Nichole Martin called for the mental health advisory committee to be better utilized and said that since some families were not willing to return until specific conditions were met, those most in need of returning could begin to do so sooner in smaller cohorts.

Leyko admitted that it would be difficult for teachers to balance teaching both remote and in-person learning. If only some students went back, they might have to change teachers—something that parents do not want to see happen, preferring the consistency of one teacher.

Other Updates

The financial audit on the district has been complete with no discrepancies found. The auditor congratulated the district administration for closely sticking to its budget.

Leyko also announced that the new state budget does not include cuts to per-pupil funding. Instead, schools may receive a slight increase.

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