Security returning to East Lansing Excessive, other measures considered

EAST LANSING – The East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education president resigned from her leadership position as administrators announced the return of security officers among other steps, following recent violent acts and misconduct at the school.

The school district’s Board of Education hosted a special meeting Monday in the East Lansing High School auditorium to review safety enhancements for the high school and throughout the school district. The proposed fixes came after heavy community concern recently with school safety and security.

Superintendent Dori Leyko reviewed a number of safety enhancements recently enacted and being implemented now or in the near future and long-term enhancements administrators hope to have completed by the end of the school year or before the 2023-24 school year. Students, parents, staff and community members can weigh in on the safety enhancement plan, which will be posted on the East Lansing Public Schools website on Tuesday.

Superintendent Dori Leyko speaks during an East Lansing Board of Education special meeting on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, at East Lansing High School.  The meeting was held to discuss a school safety plan.

Some of the enhancements include working with a security firm to bring security officers back to the high school to monitor hallways and bathrooms, limiting entry and exit to and from the school to one door and looking to see if there are any exterior doors that can permanently be put out of use and suspending and expelling students who commit acts of violence.

“While we have accomplished a lot and have executed numerous recommendations in a very short amount of time, some of these recommendations require additional time and development prior to implementation,” Leyko said. “We are acting swiftly but want to ensure that expectations and changes are well-communicated and supported, so they will be successful and sustainable.”

Board President Kath Edsall resigned from her role as board president toward the end of the four-hour meeting, saying she had become a distraction. In recent weeks, she had become the focus of a petitioning effort calling on her to resign as president, accusing her of bullying staff and the public and for her “refusal to recognize the need for a safe learning environment,” according to a change. org petition.

“I have become a distraction from the work that needs to be done, which is really more important than sitting in this presidential seat,” she said.

Before Edsall announced her resignation, board member Monica Fink motioned that Edsall be removed from the presidency, accusing her of violating several board policies during her time as president involving the protection of student welfare. Fink also said she had experienced bullying while on the board.

Fink additionally motioned to have Terah Chambers removed as vice president, but the motion did not gain support and did not come to a vote.

Several people who spoke during public comment also called for Edsall’s resignation.

The special meeting was called after students, parents and community members packed a Monday, Jan 23, Board of Education session to share their concerns with the violence and misconduct at the high school. East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon hosted a community listening session Friday. More than 200 people attended to share their concerns and discuss possible solutions.

On Sunday, East Lansing High School Assistant Principal Ashley Schwarzbek sent a communication to families to update their response to recent concerns with violence in the high school. The communication shared immediate actions underground to address the violence concerns. Some of those actions include:

  • No hall passes will be issued during the first and last 10 minutes of each class period with limited exceptions, which will give staff time to clear hallways and bathrooms. Students found in the hallway during those times “are subject to disciplinary action.”
  • Staff will be assigned for additional monitoring of bathrooms during passing time and during class time. Bathrooms in the 700 wing of the school and in the fine arts wing will be locked off as the school assesses “the ability to hire additional staff.” Misconduct in bathrooms, including vaping or skipping class, also will result in disciplinary actions.
  • Some students may no longer be in school because of “repeated and/or serious disciplinary infractions,” and any student who starts or continues to engage in violent or threatening acts will “face serious disciplinary consequences.

Schwarzbek said in the notification that Principal Shannon Mayfield has been out with a “non-covid-related health issue.”

“Over the last week, we have seen and heard from a huge number of students, families, staff, and members of the community about the need for positive change at ELHS in terms of school safety and positive culture,” Schwarzbek wrote. “High School Administration thanks you for sharing your voice and putting forward suggestions. We are listening to all of these concerns and are working to respond as quickly as possible.”

A fight involving eight to 10 students comprising two groups of East Lansing High School students after a basketball game at the school Jan. 19 proved to be the tipping point and the latest concerning violent act at the high school. Two staff members tried to break up the fight, and one staff member saw a firearm fall from a student’s belongings.

The East Lansing Police Department is investigating. The person seen with the firearm was determined to be an East Lansing High School student who had been enrolled in the school’s online program. Multiple students were suspended, according to Assistant Superintendent Glenn Mitcham, and others will be considered for long-term suspensions, expulsions and permanent suspensions.

Glenn Mitcham, assistant superintendent, gives a presentation during an East Lansing Board of Education special meeting on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, at East Lansing High School.  The meeting was held to discuss a school safety plan.

Another fight broke out in the school the next day on Jan. 20, 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, according to Leyko. Multiple students are facing suspension and expulsion, Mitcham said.

The high school went into a shelter-in-place just after a high school walkout to protest the recent violence and perceived lack of action by the Board of Education. An upset student left the building, was heard making threats against an administrator, and was let back into the school where the student remained in a bathroom, prompting officials to call ELPD, according to a notification sent to families.

Jessica Mielock, a student at East Lansing High School, called on the Board of Education Monday to act to ensure students and staff stay safe when they are in school.

“Everybody who walks into this building should have a future, and it’s your job to make sure that we survive. We have a future,” she said. “I just want to remind you all that these decisions you’re making, they need to think about the future of the staff members, they need to think about the future of the children and the entire community.”

Public comment at Monday’s special meeting featured dozens of students, parents, teachers and community members who spoke for more than two hours. While some speakers applauded the district’s current, ongoing and future security enhancements, several speakers said stopping the violence goes beyond locking doors and security officers.

Tim Akers, an English teacher at East Lansing High School, pointed to fewer teachers in the school resulting in larger class sizes, meaning some students do not get all of the attention and help that they need. He also pointed to a lack of educational resources, which, combined, have led to some students falling behind.

“When we teachers struggle to meet the educational needs of our students, they begin to fall behind,” Akers said. “Students who fall behind get frustrated. Frustrated students act out.”

While Akers and other speakers argued the violence concerns are tied to educational issues, others suggested the issues go beyond the classroom.

Shari Brooks said she is the mother of one of the students involved in the two groups of students that fought Jan. 19. Her son was moved to the school’s online program and he quickly completed the program, but there was never a plan made to ensure his success. Additionally, she said the district has met students involved in both groups individually, but she questioned why they have not been brought together as a group to work out the conflict.

“There was nothing in place to support him socially, to support him emotionally, to support him physically. He did the work. Academically, did he find success? Absolutely. But he’s still a child,” she said. “This is still his social space. We have to learn and we get them all together and teach them how to communicate, teach them how to address these issues.”

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

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