East Lansing schools focus on communication, additional security

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A parent discusses student safety at East Lansing High School.

Mya Gregory

A parent discusses student safety at East Lansing High School.

Following multiple violent events and an abundance of concerns from the public, the East Lansing Board of Education implemented a plan to improve school safety at East Lansing High School.

At the Jan. 30 school board meeting, the high school auditorium was filled with students, staff and community members interested in hearing the Board of Education present their Safety Enhancement Plan for East Lansing High School.

Summary of events at East Lansing High School

Mya Gregory

Summary of events at East Lansing High School

Superintendent Dori Leyko and Assistant Superintendent Glenn Mitcham took turns presenting the safety plan.

“Some are scared, some are mad, some are upset, some are sad,” said Mitcham. “But I assure you, we’re gonna get through this. We’re gonna figure this out. And we’re gonna get better.”

The plan includes immediate safety enhancements, short-term safety enhancements and long-term or ongoing safety enhancements, all detailed below. 

East Lansing High School safety plan.

Mya Gregory

East Lansing High School safety plan.

The immediate safety enhancements include a focus on more communication, the use of only one door during school hours, increased supervision in the hallways and bathrooms, among others. These enhancements were introduced the week of Jan. 23-27. 

The short-term safety enhancements are those that the school is working on in the following months to accomplish. These include the reinstatement of an In-School Suspension, additional lockdown buttons for secretary desks, active shooter training for all staff, and reviewing of the safety protocols.

The long-term safety enhancements are those that the school hopes to address in the following year. These included meeting with the city of East Lansing and the East Lansing Police Department in order to discuss student safety, provide de-escalation training for all staff, request assessment from the fire marshall to determine if any of the doors at ELHS can be put out of use, among others, detailed below.

More than 40 people commented following the presentation of the safety enhancement plan. Concerned members of the community, scared students and parents, upset faculty all shared their comments, feelings, and thoughts. 

East Lansing Board of Education listens to parents concerns.

Mya Gregory

East Lansing Board of Education listens to parents’ concerns.

Audience members approached two mics on either side of the auditorium, with notes in hand, and many between tears and shaky voices, shared their stories, concerns, and suggestions. Each audience member had five minutes to talk.

The main concern of many was the safety at the school. Parents, staff members, and students discussed their concerns about not feeling safe inside their own schools. 

“My son is uncomfortable coming to school and that makes me feel uncomfortable bringing him to school,” said Debra Lebus, alumna and mother of a student at ELHS .

Students stood up to share their concerns about not feeling safe in school and presented actions that they would like to see taken.

“Everybody who walks into this building should have a future,” said Jessica Milock, student at ELHS. “It’s your job to make sure we survive.”

Many students asked for more open communication about the situations going on at school and asked for action to be taken soon. Others presented the idea of implementing metal detectors or a school resource officer.

“I sincerely hope this action is enforced and taken seriously long-term,” said freshman Belle Potter.

Much of this violence was attributed to two specific groups of students. The mother of one of these students spoke at the meeting, sharing her feelings and apologizing for any fear her son may have caused.

She moved her son to online school due to an altercation he had been involved in. She emphasized the fact that, when taking her student out of school, there was no plan for his success. 

“There was nothing in place to support him socially, to support him emotionally, to support him physically,” she said.

This mother highlighted the importance of getting these students in a room together and teaching them how to communicate through their problems.

“These two groups, at one point, they were teammates,” she said. “I’ve watched these kids play Little League together.”

She continued to stress that this issue between these two groups has not been handled with the students themselves. She underlined the need to get these students in the same room, get them to communicate and teach them to address these issues. 

Another concern that was brought up was the lack of diversity and support for minority students at the school.

Sam Hosey, ELHS alumni and parent, brought about his concerns about the lack of diversity in the building.

“You guys are dropping the ball on the diversity front,” Hosey said.

He spoke of his concerns about the lack of long-term accountability and relationship building in this community. With a lack of diverse teachers, minority students are not able to find the support they need. 

Steve Wolff, a Social Studies teacher at ELHS for nine years, also shared his concerns about the lack of diversity he saw in the hallways of the high school.

“We need a more diverse teaching staff,” Wolff said. “This has been a goal of our district for years.”

Many of the community members who commented during the meeting brought back the issue of violence to other concerns, mainly diversity and lack of support for students and staff. The main issue, viewed by many, wasn’t violence or lack of safety, but systematic and deep-rooted issues that have been present in the district for a while.

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