School Board Covers Red Cedar’s Future, School Security, and Sex Ed

Wednesday, March 28, 2018, 7:42 am
By: 
Ann Nichols

At its meeting Monday night, the East Lansing Board of Education discussed the process for deciding how Red Cedar Elementary School should be used starting with the 2021 school year. This would be after Red Cedar School is finished serving as a host building for the populations of four of the five ELPS elementary schools that are being rebuilt.

Trustee Kate Powers opened the discussion by noting that no decisions had to be made immediately, but that some boundaries within the District would necessarily be moved after the current five elementary schools were rebuilt, and that such boundary-shifting would be “really challenging to do if we don’t know what long-term programming looks like” at Red Cedar.

Superintendent Dori Leyko said that District administration is looking for input from the Board on both timeline and process for decisions about Red Cedar. Specifically, they want to know what they, as an administration, should be doing, and whether decisions should be made before or after November elections.  (Four School Board seats will be up for election in November.)

Trustee Karen Hoene said that her priorities in planning for Red Cedar would include reducing the number of transitions for students, “honoring the connection” students have to an existing student population, and leaving some options open for parents.

Trustee Terah Chambers suggested that the Board convene a community committee including people who served on the Bond Committee and the Early Childhood Committee to work on plans for Red Cedar. Trustee Erin Graham said she thought creating a committee might take too long, and pointed out that there was already someone from each of those committees on the current School Board.

Graham and Trustee Kate Powers both suggested that doing the work at the Board level would be better because it provides an established forum for parents to speak and ask questions so that they have the most reliable information possible.

Most members of the Board echoed the opinion of Powers, who said the conversation on Red Cedar should start early because the majority of the current Board had worked together to create the initial bond proposal. 

Dissent came from Trustee Hillary Henderson, who said that “there can be a lot of things that change” between now and 2021. She expressed concern about making plans, informing the community, and then having to modify what was originally planned. She specifically cited the many unknowns surrounding the possible redevelopment of the recently-closed Walnut Hills Golf Club.  

“Since I’m the only person who thinks that, I’m going to go along with it,” Henderson said, adding that “we need to be very clear with our public about when these conversations are happening.”

Graham said that walkable schools had often been mentioned as important to families, and that any boundary changes should keep neighborhoods intact.

Also at last night’s meeting, Superintendent Leyko told the Board that increased security measures in elementary buildings will be completed during the District’s spring break. These will include an audiovisual buzz-in. Improvements are also planned for entrance security at MacDonald Middle School and East Lansing High School. Building and District administration are still gathering information for the middle school. Security for the High School, according to Leyko, is much more complex than at other District buildings and will likely involve both “a short-term solution and a longer-term solution.”

Later in the meeting, ELPS Sex Education Director Mary Ellen Vrbanac updated trustees on the progress of the District’s Sex Ed Advisory Board during a public hearing on LGBTQ inclusion and sexual health education materials for special needs students.  This included updates to the existing high school sex ed curriculum including lessons focused on supporting and understanding LGBTQ students, and the “infusion” of current content with inclusive references.

Vrbanac used pregnancy risk as an example of where an instructor might now ask “Does this include everybody?” Vrbanac also explained the proposed purchase of materials for students starting in 4th grade with special needs, including books and communication tools for enhancing understanding based on social stories.