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ELPS sees challenges to students' mental, physical health nearly 2 years into pandemic

front of East Lansing high school building during the day
Courtesy
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East Lansing Public Schools
East Lansing Public Schools have seen an uptick in student misconduct as classes have returned to in-person.

The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but especially for children as schools switch from online learning to in-person classes.

Journalists have followed the struggles students have faced over the past two years.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with East Lansing Info's managing editor Emily Elliott about about one of her recent stories tackling how education is changing and impacting children and their mental and physical health.

Interview Highlights

On what happened when students returned to in-person classes in the fall of 2021

Almost immediately, we started receiving tips from parents about an uptick in student misconduct. These parents also often wrote in about incidences where there were physical fights or altercations, and sometimes teachers had been struck. But through a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the district and Ingham County 911, we were able to find out that these physical altercations often had days of verbal arguments and tit for tat interactions among students.

On one the solution the district has implemented to combat a rise in misconduct

Most recently, they hired what were called "hall monitors," but their work is a bit more complex than that. So, if they see students congregating in the hallway, they go up and just kind of ask what's going on and try to disperse the crowd. They also do absence intervention.

On what administrators say about in-person learning

The district, at least at the leadership level, and by that I mean Superintendent Dori Leyko is primarily who I speak to and hear from at board meetings and then the seven trustees who serve on the school board, have really fought hard to remain in-person. Their reasoning is that 18 months of hybrid or mostly virtual education had significant socioemotional impacts on the students.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: The pandemic has been difficult for all of us, but especially for children as schools switch from online learning to in-person classes.

Journalists have followed the struggles students have faced over the past two years. I have one reporter with me today to talk about one of her recent stories tackling how education is changing and impacting children.

Joining me is Emily Elliott. She is the managing editor of East Lansing Info. Thanks for being here.

Emily Elliott: Well, thank you for having me on today, Sophia. I appreciate it.

Saliby: You recently reported on the impact of social isolation kids are experiencing due to school closures and how that might lend itself to an uptick in misconduct in schools now that in-person learning is back. Can you tell us more about what you found?

Elliott: I cover East Lansing Public Schools, which went remote from March 2020 through March 2021 when a hybrid option was introduced, but many students remained online. So, August 2021 was really the first time the entire student body was back in the building together, the buildings in the district.

Almost immediately, we started receiving tips from parents about an uptick in student misconduct. These parents also often wrote in about incidences where there were physical fights or altercations, and sometimes teachers had been struck. But through a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the district and Ingham County 911, we were able to find out that these physical altercations often had days of verbal arguments and tit for tat interactions among students.

When we spoke to teachers and administrators, they almost unanimously agreed the pandemic was in part responsible and that students weren't interacting with each other face-to-face. They would come to class, maybe see each other online or their cameras were off.

And when we spoke to teachers and administrators, they almost unanimously agreed the pandemic was in part responsible and that students weren't interacting with each other face-to-face. They would come to class, maybe see each other online or their cameras were off. Wearing masks was obscuring facial expressions, making it harder for students to understand the emotions of their classmates and, overall, teachers were saying that their classes were behind in terms of social-emotional development.

Saliby: It seems like this is a no-win situation for students, whether they're in-person during the pandemic or learning from home during the pandemic. Have you had a chance to talk to kids about what they're experiencing?

Elliott: We have spoken to several high school students. We haven't spoken to the elementary schools as much where the misconduct seems to be less of an issue. I spoke to several high school students, and they felt that the student misconduct was an uptick, but there wasn't too much.

I would say their concerns focused more about the fear of catching COVID in school, more recently in January.

Saliby: What has the school done to kind of deal with this uptick in misconduct because I understand there aren't school resource officers in schools anymore?

Elliott: So, following the murder of George Floyd in June 2020 when school was still remote, the school board endorsed a plan that was put forth by administrators to cut the district's relationship with ELPD in terms of resource officers. So, if something that's considered a crime occurs ELPD, East Lansing Police Department, would still be called.

But there aren't officers who are just patrolling the hallways, but the district has responded. Last academic year, they did launch a mental health website. They've hired more student advocates at the middle school and high school.

I know at least one teacher said that the hall monitors have really had a positive impact on student conduct.

And most recently, they hired what were called "hall monitors," but their work is a bit more complex than that. So, if they see students congregating in the hallway, they go up and just kind of ask what's going on and try to disperse the crowd.

They also do absence intervention. So, if a student is missing school reaching out to them, and overall just advocate for the students, is what the district has done. And I know at least one teacher said that the hall monitors have really had a positive impact on student conduct.

Saliby: And in this last minute, I wanted to go back on another thing you touched on. How has the administration reacted to parent concerns, student concerns about the spread of COVID in schools?

Elliott: The district, at least at the leadership level, and by that I mean Superintendent Dori Leyko is primarily who I speak to and hear from at board meetings and then the seven trustees who serve on the school board, have really fought hard to remain in-person.

The district, at least at the leadership level, and by that I mean Superintendent Dori Leyko is primarily who I speak to and hear from at board meetings and then the seven trustees who serve on the school board, have really fought hard to remain in-person.

Their reasoning is that 18 months of hybrid or mostly virtual education had significant socioemotional impacts on the students. And they also have taken significant COVID-19 mitigation efforts. There was lots of testing. There's rapid testing available. There's PCR testing available. They've held multiple vaccine clinics. They've ordered KN95s and KF94s.

So, the effort has been to stay in-person although during the first few weeks of January, about 400 students a day were absent from the high school out of fear of catching COVID, but the situation has stabilized, according to a student representative who spoke at Monday night's school board meeting.

Saliby: Emily Elliott is the managing editor of East Lansing Info. Thank you for being here.

Elliott: Thank you, Sophia.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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