East Lansing cut school security. After several fights, it reversed course
- Eight years ago, East Lansing Public Schools was forced to reduce security amid competing budget pressures
- But this year has been marred by violence, leading students and parents to demand more action to keep students safe
- This week, the district vowed to bolster security, part of a statewide effort to improve school safety
EAST LANSING — Several years ago, East Lansing Public Schools, faced with stark budget choices, began to cut back on school safety personnel to put more money into other priorities. Other districts did much the same.
The last time East Lansing had a school resource officer was nearly eight years ago, when Board of Education President Kath Edsall was first elected.
Fast-forward to the current school year, where students and parents have filled board meetings to complain about fighting, intimidation and other disruptions, particularly at the high school. Just last week, Bridge Michigan reported that East Lansing High had to be closed for a day and many students staged a walk-out following a series of incidents, including a report of one student dropping a gun in front of a teacher.
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"The board hasn't been taking action as they should have been toward our safety," Lydia-Anne Ding-Mejok, a junior, said outside the school last Thursday, according to the Lansing State Journal. "Kids are scared. Kids are scared of coming to school. They're scared of walking into school and we just need to do something.”
Now, the district is reversing course, announcing the first stages of a beefed up security and monitoring plan that includes more teachers walking hallways, a limit on hall passes and a requirement that students enter the building through a single entrance. Students, parents and others also are demanding the return of a school resource officer, a sworn officer who is trained to work in schools. Ron Bacon, the city’s mayor, told residents he would be happy to help negotiate such an arrangement.
Meanwhile, Edsall, the board president who helped preside over the reduction in school security personnel, announced her resignation Monday night.
Across Michigan, school officials have raised concern about a rise in fighting and other misbehavior among students as districts returned to in-class learning after the stress and isolation of COVID. Those concerns rose dramatically following a 2021 shooting at Oxford High School, which left four students dead and several others injured.
State leaders have responded aggressively, passing a bipartisan $460 million package last year to increase school security and mental health support. Earlier this month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that, under a $25 million program, 195 schools will be able to hire school resource officers over the next three years.
“Every parent wants their kids to be safe at school," Whitmer said. "These grants will help us hire almost 200 more School Resource Officers so we can make sure our children, teachers, and staff are safe at school.”
School leaders in East Lansing said Monday they too are taking action to heed the community’s concern. East Lansing High wasn’t among the schools earmarked as part of the $25 million state grant, which means it would have to pay for a resource officer from district funds.
“I am committed to listening to all of you and taking meaningful action,” Superintendent Dori Leyko told residents at the Monday event. “I am confident that we can make East Lansing high School and all of our buildings safer and healthier places to learn and work.”
The district noted that, in response to the pandemic, it had previously added a school counselor and social worker at East Lansing High School to provide additional support to students transitioning back from online learning.
It’s now embarking on a wide-ranging security plan.
The high school is implementing a stricter cell phone policy to reduce misinformation spread through social media. Teachers have been offered additional pay to monitor halls and bathrooms during the time they usually set aside for lesson prep until the district can hire additional security personnel.
The district said it will work to reinstate an in-school suspension program, add more alarms to exterior doors and additional lockdown buttons in the main office within the next 30 days.
Leyko, the superintendent, said she plans to work with the East Lansing Public Library, police and fire department to come up with additional safety plans and assessments before the next school year.
Students, parents and some teachers cited a string of violent incidents that have left the school shaken. Most recently, on Jan. 19, there was a fight involving 8-10 students. One teacher who tried to stop the altercation reported seeing a gun fall out of one student’s backpack. Another fight, involving some of the same students, broke out the following day as administrators were escorting them from the classroom.
There was a shelter-in-place order last Thursday following a walkout where students protested the violence and demanded action from administrators. The superintendent canceled school the following day to attend meetings with the community.
The mayor hosted a listening session on Friday at the Hannah Community Center, in which about 200 parents, teachers and community members gathered to express their safety concerns.
Students said they are unable to use the restrooms because of students skipping class to smoke or vape, with some intimidating classmates who entered to use the bathroom.
There was also an incident of students opening the doors for non-East Lansing Public School students. All of the students involved in these incidents have been suspended, or impending expulsion, the superintendent confirmed.
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