Parent-Teacher Conferences and Many School Events Canceled, But East Lansing Public Schools Remain Open

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Thursday, March 12, 2020, 12:59 pm
Emily Joan Elliott and Alice Dreger

East Lansing Public Schools today canceled all upcoming in-person parent-teacher conferences. Additionally, all field trips, all public assemblies and performances, all community meetings to take place in the schools and all facilities tours are suspended.

For now, at least, ELPS classes remain in normal session, even while Michigan State University has moved classes online. Superintendent Dori Leyko told families in a statement issued today that "Remote instruction is currently not allowable by the Michigan Department of Education for traditional K-12 schools."

Last night, Leyko also told ELi by email, "At this time, the Health Department is not recommending we close school."  She confirmed that in today's statement.

Leyko met yesterday with the Ingham County Health Department as well as representatives from MSU, Lansing Community College (LCC), the Michigan High School Athletics Association (MHSAA), and others. Leyko said today that "All athletic practices and events will continue in accorance with guidance" issued by MHSAA, and "After-School activities made up primarily of ELPS students (e.g. clubs, after-school homework support, etc.) will continue."

Parents received email just before 10:45 this morning telling them that, “In an effort to maintain health and safety and curb the spread of the COVID-19 Virus . . . . Effective immediately, all face to face parent/teacher conferences are canceled. Families may contact their students’ teachers via phone call or email for a report on their students’ progress.” Just after noon came the longer statement.

The decision to suspend parent-teacher meetings and other events comes less than 24 hours after Leyko called for patience in a “fluid” and “unprecedented situation.”

ELPS has received many inquiries from concerned parents asking if ELPS will move to online instruction in light of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s declaration of a state of emergency following two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wayne and Oakland counties. But now Leyko has clarified that the MI Department of Education will not (yet) allow that.

Earlier this week in a letter to district families Leyko stated her reservations about shifting to online instruction, voicing concerns over students’ access to internet at home and concerns over parents who would be forced to take time off from work.

Suspending classes would disproportionately negatively impact economically vulnerable families, including children who obtain free and nutritious meals through the schools.

While a school closure could exacerbate income inequality, it is unclear whether ELPS is currently pursuing means to mitigate connectivity issues, such as providing students with grants for computers or hotspots, in case classes have to be moved online.

On social media and in emails received by ELi, some parents are raising questions about ELPS’ decision-making in light of the pandemic reaching Michigan. They question whether suspending in-person meetings between parents and teachers will mitigate the spread of the virus when students are still attending class in-person.

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