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East Lansing High School grapples with safety questions after heated meeting, lockdown

East Lansing High School photo
Courtesy
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East Lansing Public Schools
East Lansing High School students were ordered to shelter in place for nearly two hours Tuesday as police investigated reports of a weapon on campus. No weapon was found.

The East Lansing Board of Education is facing growing criticism over its handling of school safety issues following a contentious public meeting and a school lockdown.

East Lansing High School students were ordered to shelter in place for nearly two hours Tuesday as police investigated reports of a weapon on campus.

No weapon was found.

That event followed less than 24 hours after a heated school board meeting during which several parents spoke about an incident last week where a firearm was found at the scene of a fight.

East Lansing Board of Education President Kath Edsall alleges some parents are spreading misinformation that students who violate school safety rules don’t face consequences for their actions.

“If it doesn’t come to us, there can be no consequence…and to say that we are somehow tying their hands; the administrator at the high school’s hands – the principal I’m talking about here – is not factually true,” Edsall said.

Edsall said the board is trying to sort out what security issues need new policies and whether existing safety policies are not being implemented.

On Jan. 19, two groups of East Lansing High School students engaged in a fight after a boys basketball game. As the crowd dispersed, a gun fell out of a student’s backpack.

Police and school officials are investigating that incident.

During Monday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Dori Leyko tearfully apologized to the community and school staff members for the way in which the district communicated those events.

“It is clear…in hindsight that timely communication should have 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,” Leyko said. “In addition, we should’ve ensured that the families of students engaged in Thursday night’s fight were notified and that those students did not come to school Friday. I acknowledge that and apologize to all of you.”

At the school board meeting, several East Lansing parents expressed concern for their children’s safety. Some noted past incidents of violence and criticized the district for failing to take stronger safety measures.

Tuesday afternoon, Leyko sent an update via email about the shelter in place that occurred earlier in the day:

Dear East Lansing staff, families, students and community, 

At approximately 9:45 a.m., East Lansing High School administrators received a report from three students who had seen a screenshot of a post in a group chat warning the group that there may be a student with a firearm on campus.  Almost simultaneously, administrators were alerted via email and radio communication that an exterior door was propped open.  High school administrators immediately put the building in Shelter-in-Place status, which locks all exterior doors, requires that all classroom doors be locked, and restricts movement in the building while allowing teachers to continue instruction.  This status allowed administration to identify, locate and interview students who were potentially involved or may have relevant information.  Each interview led administrators to new information and additional students to interview as they worked to trace the report to the original source.  In addition to the student interviews, administrators viewed video footage and searched identified individuals, their belongings and lockers.  No weapon was found, and administrators were able to trace the report back to information that was overheard in the hallway and misinterpreted.  The door prop notification was found to be unrelated through the viewing of video footage.

Students remained in their Excel classes for about 1 hour 55 minutes.  Updates were shared with staff and families twice during the Shelter-in-Place with a third update sent to staff and read to students before they were released at 11:40 a.m.

We recognize that attention, anxiety and concerns around school safety are at a heightened state right now and encourage students to continue to report any suspicious language or behavior to their administrators or a trusted adult.  The processes and systems we have in place were implemented today, and while the investigation took an extended period of time, we are confident that the system worked.  Officers from the East Lansing Police Department were onsite throughout the investigation.  Thank you to the students who provided important information, our staff for implementing our safety procedures, administrators for their swift response and thorough investigation and our families for their understanding and patience.  

Thank you, 

Dori Leyko, Superintendent

East Lansing Public Schools

Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things considered.
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