East Lansing School Board’s Stand on Abortion Issue Could Cost the District

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Monday, October 14, 2019, 4:16 pm
Karessa Wheeler

Above: School Board President Erin Graham (Photo by Raymond Holt).

Michigan state law set an Oct. 1 deadline to require all school districts to adopt a policy to discipline staff for “referring” or “assisting” a student to obtain an abortion.

But at a special meeting Sept. 30, in a unanimous vote of the six members present, the East Lansing Board of Education rejected creating such a policy. They instead called on the governor and legislature to rescind the law.

This move could cost the District in terms of State aid.

The agenda for Sept. 30 shows that the special meeting was called specifically to discuss a motion to adopt and implement the “Prohibition of Referral or Assistance Policy,” a policy forbidding staff, employees or school officials from offering abortion assistance or referral, according to State law.

The draft policy stated that “a school official, board member, or employee of the East Lansing Public Schools shall not refer a student for an abortion or assist a student in obtaining an abortion.”

If the policy had passed, the Superintendent would have had 30 days to investigate suspected violations. If the official was found to have violated the policy, “the Superintendent will discipline that person in accordance with Board Policy and any applicable collective agreement or employment contract. The Superintendent will take corrective action to ensure that there is no further violation.”

But the motion to adopt the policy was rejected by all those present, including Trustees Terah Chambers, Kath Edsall, Erin Graham, Hillary Henderson, Chris Martin, and Nichole Martin. (Trustee Kate Powers was absent.)

Edsall then introduced a resolution opposing this part of the State law, technically known as Section 166 of Michigan’s State School Aid Act. This resolution passed unanimously among the trustees present.

The resolution calls on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Legislature to repeal the law.

It also calls on State Attorney General Dana Nessel to challenge the constitutionality of Section 166, declaring that section of the law “vague, overbroad and an overreach by the state” and saying that it “ties school appropriations to speech around a legal medical procedure,” “restricts the freedom of speech of school employees and board members,” and “removes local control over school policy.”

According to the passed resolution, “Section 166 holds school districts hostage by compelling the passage of a constitutionally suspect policy and tying such passage to school appropriates.”

Board President Erin Graham told The State News that the State law could be potentially harmful to students’ health.

“For example, a miscarriage is also referred to as a ‘spontaneous abortion,’” Graham told The State News. “So are we telling our employees that if we had a student that was pregnant and miscarrying at school that they would not be able to assist that student? We would never tell an employee if a student is having a medical issue at school, don’t assist them.”

Parents in the ELPS District and the press were not notified of this special meeting, and according to Superintendent Dori Leyko, no recording was made of the meeting. The Sept. 30 special meeting agenda included only this item.

Leyko declined to comment on the matter for East Lansing Info (ELi).

The ELPS Board of Trustees is scheduled to have a regular meeting tonight, October 14, starting at 7 p.m. in the lower level of East Lansing High School. The agenda and agenda packet are available here. Public comment will be permitted after a number of reports are made.


Correction notice: This article and its headline were changed one hour after publication in terms of information about the potential penalty for not having a policy in place. The original article indicated the penalty could be $100,000 but the current version of State law specifies a penalty calculated in relation to the amount of State aid to a district. We also deleted a paragraph that referred to a previous version of the law that specified penalties for staff who violate the prohibition.

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