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East Lansing High School students stage walkout to protest school violence

Kevin Lavery
East Lansing High School students walked out of class Thursday morning to urge the school board to implement stronger safety measures.

Updated January 26 at 5:32 p.m. ET

In an email to the East Lansing Schools community Thursday, Superintendent Dori Leyko announced that East Lansing High School will be closed Friday.

The letter:

Good afternoon East Lansing staff, families and community members and East Lansing High School students,

The purpose of this email is three-fold:

  • To summarize the events at ELHS today
  • To notify you that ELHS will be closed tomorrow and our reasons for this decision
  • To share our actions to this point following Monday night’s Board of Education meeting and our near-future steps

Summary of events at ELHS today: 

This morning, administrators provided consequences to a student for a non-violent offense. The student became upset, left the building and was then heard making threats of harm toward an administrator. The student was let back into the building by a student and remained in the bathroom with another student. We requested the support of ELPD to assist in exiting the student from the building. The building was put in Shelter-in-Place as a precaution to limit movement and hold students in classes while the situation was resolved. A couple officers remained onsite as administrators then responded to a report of a physical altercation involving three students. We are still investigating both of these incidents.

East Lansing High School will be closed Friday, January 26 [sic] – all other district buildings will be open.

ELHS will not be in session tomorrow. With the number of events that have occurred this week in such a compacted amount of time, our team needs time…

  • time to complete investigations
  • time to communicate with families
  • time to schedule and/or hold meetings with students involved in these incidents and their families
  • time to come together to plan for changes to our procedures that can take place immediately
  • time to organize and communicate changes to staff and students

These tasks are all extremely important and cannot take place during the school day while providing student supervision. Your understanding that we cannot risk another day of events like these would be greatly appreciated.

Updates and Planning for Changes

Since Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, a series of meetings have taken place to discuss potential changes, identify priorities and increase the level of supervision at after-school events.

  • Prior to the postponement of tonight’s basketball games, staff and volunteer parent (thank you so much!) supervision and presence had been increased.
  • The timeliness of communication to staff, students and families during a Shelter-in-Place has improved.
  • The Board of Education released communication to stakeholders and directed my team and I to provide a plan for immediate, short-term and long-term safety enhancements. A team of stakeholders will be meeting tomorrow to discuss the recommendations and develop a first draft of a plan. This plan will be shared Monday, January 30, and we will have a process for stakeholder feedback.
  • We’ve met with some stakeholder groups and/or leaders of groups to listen and hear their recommendations and thoughts – staff & students.

Again, high school and central office administrators have been highly engaged in resolving urgent situations and providing supervision over the past few days (minus yesterday due to weather). We really haven’t had an opportunity to all come together and work on this plan – tomorrow will provide us some much-needed time to do this and to tie up the long list of loose ends that are pending so that we are ready to welcome students back to the building Monday.

Thank you to the students who organized today’s walk-out to bring attention to school safety at ELHS and to the staff, families and community members who came out to support the students. Thanks also to our ELHS staff members who welcomed students back to the building this morning with a little “welcome lane” as they entered the building. I know that this has been very upsetting to many of you and your students, and please know that we are committed and will do everything we can to bring structured change and a healthy school climate back to ELHS.

Thank you – Dori Leyko, Superintendent

Original Story:

East Lansing High School students walked out of their classrooms Thursday to protest what they say is an atmosphere of violence and racial tension in the school.

Students, teachers and parents say they’re worried about fights and lockdowns that are becoming more frequent.

Earlier this month, a gun was found at the scene of a fight following a boys’ basketball game.

Sophomore Marisa Serrato-Jamez says the root of the problem is the frustration that students of color feel over not getting enough support.

“We don’t have people that look like us; we don’t have people that come from the situations we do and the situations we’re currently in,” Serrato-Jamez said. “People don’t know what we go through every single day. It is a big culture divide, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

East Lansing parent Lori Vanderbush commends the students for speaking up for their needs.

“They want mentorships, they want strong leadership, they want people coming to the school and showing them the difference between right and wrong and being for them and getting to the root cause of everything,” Vanderbush said. “That’s what their focus is.”

Shortly after the walkout, East Lansing High School experienced its second shelter-in-place this week, which lasted about 20 minutes.

On Friday, the East Lansing City Council will host a public listening session starting at 5:30 p.m. in the Hannah Community Center.

Kevin Lavery served as a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered before retiring in 2023.
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