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East Lansing Public School board votes to bring back in-person classes

January 26, 2021
<p>The back of East Lansing High School where you can drop off donations for a food drive. Photo taken Dec. 10, 2020.</p>
Photo by Lauren Snyder | The State News

The East Lansing Public School board voted to certify the Extended Continuity of Learning Plan in its Jan. 25 meeting to bring students back to in-person instruction by the beginning of March if they so choose.

Parents may choose to continue remote learning.

After over an hour of parents, teachers and students voicing their opinions and concerns to the board, this plan was certified in a vote of six-to-one, with board trustee Debbie Walton being the only vote against. 

An initial plan to phase students back into in-person instruction was changed when East Lansing Public School teachers began getting the COVID-19 vaccination on Jan. 18. This new plan, presented by East Lansing Superintendent Dori Leyko, entailed bringing preschool and elementary schoolers back to in-person instruction on Feb. 22 and middle and high schoolers back on March 1.  

Citing a survey that had been circulated to East Lansing parents showing about half were prepared to bring their children back to in-person classes, board secretary Chris Martin voted to certify the Extended Continuity of Learning Plan.

“The people who depend on our schools are split on this issue, and the logical conclusion for me is that we need to have two options for our split community,” Martin said.

Parents, students and teachers voiced their concerns regarding the effectiveness of both aspects of the plan: elementary and secondary. 

Parents who were wary of the plan said they were worried their elementary-aged children might lose access to art, music and gym classes known as "specials" if they choose to stay remote. 

Paty Jaimes, the parent of a child in the special education program, said these specials are the only access her daughter has to the general education curriculum. But she said she doesn’t feel comfortable sending her daughter back to school because she is high-risk. 

“It always feels that when administrators and educators and people are making plans for the schools, special education is always an afterthought,” Jaimes said. “It’s always on the backburner.”

Walton, the single vote against certifying the plan, called one part of the plan in which teachers in the middle and high schools would be instructing virtually and in the classroom at the same time, the “worst of both possible worlds.”

Walton also said her vote echoed the majority of the public comment that had been made at the meeting, where many voiced concerns over the effectiveness of plan and the safety of teachers, some of whom said they feared for their own and their family’s safety if they returned back to in-person classes. 

Chadwick Noellert, a visual arts teacher at MacDonald Middle School, said he would return to school if the board passed their plan, but said he would feel like he was doing so “under duress,” as a first-year teacher afraid of losing his job.

“If there’s one thing I fear more than COVID, it’s losing this job,” Noellert said.

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