Teachers, parents and students crowded inside and outside the room for the school board meeting at East Lansing High School on Monday, Jan. 23. Violence and safety issues at the high school were the focus of the meeting.
The meeting specifically focused on an incident that occurred on Thursday, Jan. 19, where a group of students started fighting after the school’s triple-header basketball game. Second-year teacher Madelyn Zink was the first to intervene in the fight. When she did, a gun fell out of a backpack and onto her foot.
Some parents at the meeting blamed the violence on a lack of discipline at the school and say it’s getting out of control.
The only other people who helped break up the fight were ELHS Principal Shannon Mayfield and high school senior Nick Chenault.
“The only thing I could think of was: get out, help one of the best teachers we have at this school, and little did I know there was a firearm within 4 feet of me. I had no clue. I saw my own principal get hit in the back of the head and kind of stumble and all I could think about was, ‘What is going on?’” said Chenault.
Superintendent Dori Leyko did not communicate with parents and students about the gun on campus, and the school was in session the next day. Many of the students found out about the gun over social media and decided not to attend school. Some students, who didn’t know about the gun, showed up to half-empty classrooms the following Friday morning.
That same Friday, five students involved in the incident the night before got into another altercation in the locker commons, where Zink again had to break up the fight.
In Madelyn Zink’s impact statement to the board, she stated, “8:42, I stood in the hallway exactly 11 hours after the first incident and watched it all occur again. At 8:46 I’m begging my students with their clenched fists and tears running down their faces to just hold my hand while making empty promises that everything will be OK,” Zink said.
Madelyn Zink’s mother Iris Zink expressed her disappointment to the board about their lack of concern for her daughter’s wellbeing.
“Has anyone asked if my daughter needs a mental health day or if she is OK? No one is doing that. No one seems to care, and that is the problem,” Iris Zink said.
During the meeting, Leyko apologized for the lack of communication.
“In retrospect, we should’ve handled communication with staff and student removal from school differently. I acknowledge that and apologize to all of you for the fear and anxiety those mistakes caused. We can and will do better,” she said.
Brad Lutz, a concerned parent of and spouse of a teacher at Marble Elementary School, spoke to the board about the prevalence of violence in the local schools.
“What everyone is asking right now is to cut the head of the snake off. The high school is the head of the snake. The problem is starting in our elementary. Last year our fifth-grade children saw fights daily at Marble Elementary School. You know what happened. Nothing.” he said. “There have been fights this year that I have witnessed outside of MacDonald middle school. No adult around, no supervisor, nothing.”
A few days prior to the board meeting, a petition titled “East Lansing School Board needs a change in leadership” was sent out to the community in hopes of initiating board president Kath Edsall’s resignation. The petition has more than 1,000 signatures.
In response to the petition and safety concerns as a result of the Jan. 19 incident, East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon held a school/public safety listening session on Jan. 27. Additionally, the high school administration held another public meeting on Jan. 30 and presented a slideshow explaining the school’s safety enhancement plan, during which, Edsall resigned as president of the board. She will remain a school board member, and a new president will be chosen from among the remaining members.
Immediate safety enhancements include communication of new rules and procedures and reinforcement of rules to the students,
- the use of only one door for student entry
- increased supervision and monitoring of hallways and bathrooms
- implementation of no hall pass during the first and last 10 minutes of class for a more accurate hall sweep
- availability of district wellness leader to staff and students, and additional security/supervision at athletic events.
Until the school is able to hire security, current staff can and have volunteered to supervise hallways during their planning periods. They will be compensated for this.
Short-term safety enhancements for the next few months include:
- reinstatement of an in-school suspension program
- additional exterior doors to be alarmed
- lockdown buttons closer to the secretary’s desk
- additional security personnel
- improved communication
- active shooter training by the East Lansing Police Department for all staff.
Long-term enhancements to be done by the end of the school year or the start of the next school year include:
- meeting with the City of East Lansing
- the public library
- the police department to discuss public safety collaborations
- requests to the fire marshall about what exterior doors can be taken out of use
- provide mentoring and social development for students involved in the conflict
- evaluate the intervention for students who exhibit the need for self-regulation support
- strategy, and de-escalation training for all staff.
After the presentation, Edsell apologized to the community for her attitude and remarks made at the prior meeting.
“I want to apologize. A week ago, parents, students and teachers came before us because they were scared, anxious, angry and hurting, and my comments only added to your pain. I am deeply sorry for my comments. Nobody should feel afraid in school. No student, no teacher, no staff, no parent. I regret not doing better at empathizing and acknowledging your pain and feelings. My words were hurtful and I really do from the deepest part of my soul regret my words and hope someday you accept my apology,” she said.
Many parents raised concerns that the violence is not happening at just the high school but in middle and elementary schools.
High school senior Gretchen Rojewski said that violence has been an ongoing issue that has become normalized to the students.
“I would say it’s definitely been very present. The best way to describe it is as an open secret. It was something that everyone knew about and were aware of but never really talked about,” she said.
Rojewski also said parents have always been active, but the gun incident was the moment they knew they had to come together to change what is being done.
“Just because my child has not been directly affected by violence doesn’t mean that they are not going to be the next, and I think that that is kind of what initially sprung the outrage,” she said. “There’s actually nothing preventing this from happening again.”