East Lansing school board commits to addressing violence in high school

EAST LANSING − The East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education is calling for safety enhancements and improved communications between the school district and the community following recent violent incidents at East Lansing High School and concerns raised by students and parents.

Students, teachers and community members filled the Board of Education meeting on Monday, sharing concerns with violence at the school, including a fight between two groups of East Lansing High School students that had to be broken up by teachers and students after a basketball game on Jan 19, according to Superintendent Dori Leyko. One of the teachers breaking up the fight saw a firearm fall from the belongings of one of the students involved.

On Friday, Leyko said another fight broke out when two students who were being guided to the office by a school administrator went after a group of students sitting outside the school’s media center.

The recent violent incidents led to dozens of students, teachers and parents to share their concerns at Monday’s meeting, with many criticizing what they considered lax disciplinary measures for students.

In response, the Board of Education released a statement Tuesday, sharing three commitments following the recent violence:

  • Directing Leyko to bring recommendations for short- and long-term safety enhancements to be implemented across the district
  • Hosting a meeting with members of the community and safety experts, including the East Lansing Police Department, East Lansing City Council and others, to discuss coordinated plans to improve safety in schools and the East Lansing community
  • Communicating regularly with the community at school board meetings regarding ongoing efforts to address safety concerns.

The East Lansing Student Council Executive Board sent a letter to the district’s student, teachers, families and community members with three demands, including enforcing punishments and providing clear consequences for student actions, the resignation of Kath Edsall, president of the Board of Education, and Increased mental health support for students and staff affected by violence.

East Lansing High School students were also planning an extended walk-out starting Thursday morning, with some students not planning to return on Friday in protest of the recent violent events.

Prior to the board’s statement, East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon announced he would hold a school and public safety listening session on Friday following the violence. He did not respond to a message for comment Wednesday, but said in a statement that “This Friday’s listening session will be hosted to hear from people who have requested to talk to us, and we hope to be able to come away from it with some solution.”

During Monday’s meeting, several parents and speakers criticized the school’s communication with families and the community concerning the Jan. 19 fight.

There appeared to be more confusion from Friday’s incident. East Lansing Police Capt. Chad Pride said there was no weapon found in the school and that initially parents, not school officials, called the police to learn more after their children told them about the lockdown and officers responded to the school. The school was searched by district officials, Pride said.

Leyko has not responded to questions about how and when police were notified of a potential threat.

Several speakers at Monday’s meeting called for the district to hire more security officers and a school resource officer.

When Leyko first became superintendent eight years ago, she said the district employed two security guards for the high school and a school resource officer who split time across all of the school buildings in the district. The funds that allowed for those positions were “repurposed,” Leyko said, and instead were used to hire school personnel to monitor hallways and to support students and families.

Now the district has two full-time student advocates, two full-time hall monitors, and one full-time staffer from Communities in Schools, a nonprofit that assigns staff to working inside schools to “connect students to caring adults and community resources that help them see, confront, and overcome the barriers that stand between them and a brighter future,” according to the organization’s website.

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Contact Mark Johnson at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ByMarkJohnson.

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