School Board Meets to Discuss Return to School

Zoom meeting earlier this month plans what the next few months of school will look like

The East Lansing school board met over Zoom to discuss a potential plan for returning to in-person school on Monday, Oct. 19. Superintendent Dori Leyko and school board members discussed several opening options, factoring in the local case rate and concerns from the East Lansing community.

“There is no one right or best way to do school right now,” Leyko said at the meeting Monday. “Every step in some direction is dissatisfying to others. 

zoom, school board, COVID
Photo of Zoom meeting on Monday 10-19.

Leyko says there are “six groups with which most of [East Lansing’s] stakeholders identify”: parents, teachers, and students who want to remain in remote school and parents, students, and teachers who want to return to in-person schooling.

One of these stakeholders is Donald Keough (10).

“In person school is my personal preference, though we do what’s right instead of what we like better,” Keough said. “I’d rather go to in-person school sooner than later, but I understand there are risks, and I’m just grateful that we can play sports.”

Despite the fact that many are tired and craving a return to normalcy, Leyko doesn’t believe this is reason enough to suggest returning to school at the moment. Especially because, according to Leyko, positivity rates are higher than they were when the board originally approved the recommendation to start school in remote instruction in August. 

Anna Scholes (11) agrees, but rising COVID-19 case numbers aren’t her only motivation for remaining virtual.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to go back now, whether hybrid or fully in person,” Anna Scholes (11) said. “It’s definitely not safe… even if it was I wouldn’t want to go back  because I’ve built a routine for [online] school, and strangely it’s been good for my mental health.”

In terms of mental health, returning to in-person schooling would not only disrupt students’ new routines, but add a new stressor to their lives: the fear of getting sick. 

“It’d be nice to go back to school, but i think it’s better if we don’t,” Aayla Qureshi (10) said. “I miss seeing people everyday [but] I have concerns about the risk of spreading disease, which will probably be the outcome of going back.”

Aside from student opinions, the board is also considering the impact of remote and in-person schooling on teachers.

No matter when East Lansing returns to in-person learning, online school will continue to be offered throughout the year. Each teacher will teach either entirely online or entirely in-person, which could result in some students changing teachers based off of their decision to stay online or go in person.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on our own trying to think and develop good plans for East Lansing Public Schools and we’ve had a chance to spend a lot of time learning from other school districts,” Director of Curriculum and Instruction Glenn Mitcham said at the Monday meeting. “When you ask teachers to provide both in-person instruction and online instruction, the hybrid model, teachers [in other districts] didn’t like it because it burnt them out.” 

If case levels permit and school board members approve, high schoolers will have an orientation week January 19-22. The board is also considering extending the length of classes on alternating days to reduce transition time. The specifics are still unknown, but as the board makes these key decisions, they said they are focused on prioritizing the needs of students and teachers. 

Having to adapt to COVID-19, any return to school will likely look quite different than it has in past years. Director Mitcham is looking into collaboration with nearby schools one classes, exploring avenues that make it possible for online learners to participate in their music classes, lunch schedules, and substitute plans. At the moment nothing certain is known on these topics.

The school board is to vote on the plan presented by Leyko and Mitcham Monday, Oct. 26. As they do so, and the board continues to explore plans for the future, Leyko promises a community engaged approach.

“From the beginning of this pandemic, our team of district leaders has vowed to prioritize the health and safety of our school and greater community, and to base our decisions on data, trends, and guidance from experts,” Leyko said.