School Board Talks Public Relations and Sex Ed, Hears about Racial Tensions

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Thursday, January 30, 2020, 7:45 am
Alice Dreger

Above: Conner Long (left) and Madison Duncan presenting their award-winning work. (Photos by Raymond Holt)

Members of East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education got into a discussion at this week’s meeting about how positively they work with each other and also voted through curricular changes in sex ed and middle-school electives.

But first, they asked for presentations from the four winners of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship and Essay Contest.

First-place essay contest winner and high school junior Conner Long read his poem that spoke to the flood of emotions he felt — from fear to anger — when he was stopped by the police in an instance he experienced as racial profiling.

School Board Secretary Chris Martin told ELi afterwards that when Long read his poem at the MLK celebration in Lansing on January 20, “the whole room” — over a thousand people — “gave Mr. Long a standing ovation before he even finished reading it on stage.” Said Martin, the poem “was one of the highlights of the event for me, and a sobering reminder of the work before us.”

Speaking of her decision to support a fellow African American student who was told by a teacher to remove her head wrap, high school senior and scholarship winner Madison Duncan read her essay focusing on King’s observation that “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

Duncan explained her decision not to “actively betray” her classmate through complicit silence while a teacher moved to “strip away our culture.” Formal apologies resulted from the protest which Duncan and others joined.

Senior Kayla Edwards, scholarship finalist, also spoke of King’s “silence as betrayal” insight, noting this quotation came from his criticism of the Vietnam war. Edwards’ presentation centered on hunger and food insecurity, and she asked how we are addressing hunger.

Above from left: Kayla Edwards, Nia Long, and Calvin Bosanic.

Nia Long, freshman and second-place contest winner, read her essay about growing up in a culture that discriminates against her “simply for being brown,” concluding, “You want our rhythm, but you don’t want our blues.”

Eighth-grader Calvin Bosanic and senior Eaman Ali were also recognized for their artwork as winners of the MLK Holiday Art Contest (see the agenda packet for various recognitions, and Board Vice President Terah Chambers (below) encouraged people to look into activities happening in relation to the Black Lives Matters at School national Week of Action.

New school construction:

Superintendent Dori Leyko gave highlights from the Bond Work Group’s updates, saying that construction of the new Whitehills and Pinecrest schools are ahead of where Glencairn and Donley construction were this time last year. She also said that discussions are continuing on programming for Red Cedar School and that the new school designs were winning substantial external recognition.

Pressed on the question of when the new Whitehills and Pinecrest schools will be open, Leyko (above) said she “will just say summer,” because she doesn’t want to set expectations that might not be met. She said that furniture will not be in the buildings “until at least mid-August” according to the planning schedule.

Trustee Kate Powers asked whether the termination of contracts over unfinished work at Glencairn and Donley would negatively impact the budget. Leyko explained the costs related to that problem are being managed with remaining funds and the bonding that was obtained to cover exactly this kind of event.

New contractors are working on finishing Glencairn and Donley but since they are not allowed to work during school hours, the scheduling is challenging.

Getting along and seeking better press:

Trustee Nichole Martin (below) said she wanted to take the opportunity to “speak openly” about her decision two weeks ago to vote “no” on the officer slate that took away her position on the Executive Board. Martin referred to a “chaotic fury” that resulted in the wake, and said she wanted to talk about how well the Board works together.

Martin said she had explained to Board President Erin Graham about why she decided to vote “no” but that she had not explained it to others. (She did not go on to explain it at this meeting.) She said that focusing on split decisions does a disservice to District staff.

Trustee Chris Martin (below right) said that one year in to his service, he has “nothing but very positive things to say about all the people around this table.” He suggested more attention be paid to good news, like increases in enrollment and bonuses for teachers and said he had spoken with others on the Board about partnering with the City of East Lansing on public relations materials in order to “toot the horn of the District.”

Chambers added that she is “so proud of the work we have done together,” and Graham expressed her gratitude to those around the table. Graham said “constructive conversations” are good.

Curricular additions and new uniforms:

ELPS Sex Education Director Mary Ellen Vrbanac (below) received unanimous support for proposed additions to sex ed materials used in grades 6-8.

Various short videos will help teachers talk about unhealthy relationships, sexting, and depression. New slide presentations are aimed at making sure students understand that sex is the primary route of transmission of HIV and that condoms can help with prevention.

The Board also voted through a new World Languages and Cultures elective for the sixth grade (read more about that in ELi’s separate report from Emily Joan Elliott) and approved a plan to purchase new marching band uniforms. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info