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'What we have is a crisis of common sense,' East Lansing school board meeting turns heated over student safety

The meeting addresses an incident from last Thursday, when a gun was found on a former student after a basketball game in the East Lansing High School parking lot
East Lansing High School
Posted at 1:33 PM, Jan 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-24 13:34:59-05

EAST LANSING, Mich. — "This is a Columbine accident waiting to happen," stated Iris Zink, mother of the East Lansing High School teacher who broke up a fight Thursday night in the East Lansing High School parking lot after a basketball game.

One of the individuals involved in the fight, a former East Lansing High School student who was moved to virtual learning for disciplinary reasons, was found to have brought a gun on the campus.

At the East Lansing Public Schools (ELPS) Board of Education meeting on Monday, Jan. 23, concerned students, staff, administrators and community members all addressed the issue of violence and lack of disciplinary measures in the ELPS system. The fight that broke out Thursday night was the most recent occurrence of these issues in the schools.

RELATED | East Lansing High School put on lockdown for potential weapon threat Tuesday

One father spoke during public comment about what his son had told him what happened that night. His son, a senior at the high school, was in his car in the parking lot getting ready to leave the game when a bunch of students started fighting.

"You could hear heads hitting on vehicle windows and hands hitting [cars] when kids missed a punch," the father said.

A chaperone for the event was a female teacher, who tried to break up the fight. The teacher then called out for help, and the student sitting in his car went to help the teacher.

"What we have is a crisis of common sense," said the father. "What we have is a flashing red sign."

Many of the speakers at the meeting talked about a lack of transparency in communication and lack of action by administrators.

In her statement at the meeting, Superintendent Dori Leyko said, "It is clear from that meeting, and in hindsight, that timely communication should’ve gone to high school staff members and families late Thursday night, so that folks were informed of the events of Thursday evening and plans for Friday. We should’ve at least provided staff with the information we had at the time even if it was incomplete. We will do better in our communication with all of you. In addition, we should’ve ensure that the families of students engaged in Thursday night's fight were notified and that those students did not come to school Friday regardless of how late it was. Those families should’ve been called and those students should not have been in school Friday. In retrospect we should handle communication with staff and student removal from school differently. I acknowledge that and apologize to all of you for the fear and anxiety we can, and will, do better."

The following is the full statement at the meeting from the ELPS superintendent:

"Good evening board, staff, students and members of our community,

First, thank you for attending tonight's meeting, whether you were here in person or observing virtually. I will take staff and community interest in challenging situation‘s over disengaging any day, even when it’s hard and uncomfortable. I appreciate the level of engagement in our district.

I’d like to share some reflections and insights regarding our last week. Obviously I want to be as transparent as possible while adhering to the confidentiality requirements by law, without interfering with any ongoing investigations. Last week was a tough week. Even though it was a short week Wednesday, we had to close Mcdonald Middle School and unexpectedly send students home early due to the actions of a student setting off a fire alarm and triggered a bathroom sprinkler that flooded our hallway and portions of some classrooms. We needed to repair the sprinkler head and reset the fire suppression system before students can occupy the building again. It was expected to take a few hours. This was the second time the school year that students were released early. The prior time due to a local power outage.

Thursday evening following a boys basketball triple header, which is concluded after five overtimes. Two groups of East Lansing High School students engaged in a fight in our parking lot to school staff members for the first on site to intervene. One staff member reported a firearm falling out of a students belongings as he gathered his coat and backpack. The East Lansing Police Department was also on site that evening. They took a report and opened an investigation. School staff spent the next couple hours reviewing video footage and student recorded videos of the fight to identify students. We left the school around 11:30 with some students and I didn't identify any need for further investigation. The identity of the student reported to possess the firearm was determined. Information was provided to the East Lansing Police Department, and subsequently to Meridian Township Police Department. This investigation is ongoing.

We did, however, know that the student does not attend to East Lansing High School in person, and we had no knowledge of any weapon threat to any individuals, or to the school, with the information that we had. I made the decision to have school open Friday. Immediately, Friday morning, high school administrators and support personnel pulled students from class who are engaged in or strongly connected to Thursday nights' fight, and put them in supervised spaces. With several staff members supervising the locker commons, during passing time between first and second hour, to students being guided to the office by an administrator. A group of students were sitting on the ledge outside the media center [started to fight], school staff intervened and broke it up.

Once students were removed from school, high school administrators were able to move forward with their investigation and communication. After school Friday a debriefing meeting was offered the high school staff. Many staff attended and provided feedback and shared concerns. It is clear from that meeting, and in hindsight, that timely communication should’ve gone to high school staff members and families late Thursday night so that folks were informed of the events on Thursday evening and plans for Friday. We should’ve at least provided staff with the information we had at the time, even if it was incomplete. We will do better in our communication with all of you.

In addition, we should’ve ensure that the families of students engaged in Thursday nights' fight were notified, and that those students did not come to school Friday. Regardless of how late it was, those families should’ve been called and those students should not have been in school Friday. In retrospect, we should handle communication with staff and student removal from school differently. I acknowledge that and apologize to all of you for the fear and anxiety. We can, and will, do better.

We heard many ideas and suggestions from high school staff members Friday and have a meeting scheduled to discuss, timely action and some of those suggestions. We appreciate your candidness and willingness to support some changes moving forward, but I started in this building eight years ago, we had two security guards on site, contracted through DK security, and a school resource officer for the district who shared time across buildings and was based in East Lansing police department offices. We re-purposed those funds to provide personnel who could help monitor hallways and support students and families. We now have two full-time student advocates, two full-time home monitors and one full-time community and school staff person. Two of these five individuals were previously security guards for DK security and worked in our school. Post-COVID, I recognize the times are different and we are dealing with a higher frequency and intensity of student dysregulation, and added a counselor and social worker to the high school as well. We will evaluate our utilization of these resources and consider whether additional support personnel are needed.

High school administrators, staff and support staff are continuing to problem solve this ongoing conflict between these two groups of students. Working on the board policy, the East Lansing High School student handbook, and Michigan law. They have implemented consequences and support for each student. Some students have enrolled in our online program, suspensions have been assigned, after school privileges have been taken away, all while we work with the students to identify the root of this conflict and work with families and other resources to prevent future fights. With each altercation high school administrators consider the mandatory seven factors when assigning consequences, which is why consequences may not be the same for every student involved.

We are committed to making changes to improve school safety. In December we had a risk safety assessment completed in each of our 8 buildings, and we have just received the reports and recommendations last week. We will thoughtfully consider and evaluate current practices, as well as the recommendations from our reports and from our staff members, to make some meaningful changes we will keep staff students families and the board in the loop regarding these changes.

Thank you."
East Lansing Public Schools Superintendent Dori Leyko

To view the full meeting, click here.

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Mikayla Temple

Mikayla Temple

1:39 PM, Jan 05, 2021

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