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October 2, 2013

East Detroit to change communication policy following week of tensions

By Kevin Bunch
C & G Staff Writer

EASTPOINTE — The East Detroit school board is taking steps to speed up communication with parents following a drill Sept. 20 that led to confusion and rumormongering.

Superintendent Joanne Lelekatch announced that the district will be implementing the “School Connect” program, where parents will be able to provide a cellphone number to receive a mass text whenever the school has a major announcement, such as a snow day or early dismissal.

The announcement came on the heels of a chaotic week for the school’s students. East Detroit High School Assistant Principal John Rizzo said there was an altercation on Sept. 16 off school grounds involving non-students.

Eastpointe public safety officer John McNeilance said the Police Department had received third-hand information from the school about threats Sept. 20 that were related to the fight four days earlier.

“As a precaution, we had extra patrols over there, but nothing occurred,” McNeilance said. “It was sketchy information, but we have to take precautions.”

Lelekatch said, at the request of the Police Department, the school had an early dismissal Sept. 20, staggering the kids’ release by floor starting at 2:15 p.m. until they were all let out at 2:35 p.m., the normal release time. Teachers, administrators and security guards were in the parking lot in the meantime, she said.

Lelekatch said the school simply did not have the time to alert parents to the early dismissal for logistical reasons.

“To get a robocall out at the high school takes approximately two hours because we don’t have enough trunk lines going out,” Lelekatch said. “So if they are going out in the evening, we may start at 4 p.m. and not finish until 6:30.”

Since parents were not alerted to the circumstances behind the early dismissal, nor the early dismissal itself, those parents attending the Sept. 23 school board meeting were upset.

“My daughter goes to the high school, and I asked her what happened,” parent Gail Cram said. “I would have liked to have heard (something). I understand you’re busy, but maybe the school could have sent something home on Monday? East Detroit has a big rumor mill — it’s a small town, word gets around, and kids get home and tell us what they think they know, and we’d prefer to hear it from the staff.”

Cram said she liked the idea of the text messages and wondered if the district could also use parents’ email addresses as an alternative contact point. Lelekatch said the district has been listening to parental concerns and ideas.

“We have taken their suggestions about communication and have come up with a communication plan so we can notify parents when we need to do these things,” she said, adding that the high school had a public forum Sept. 26, after deadline, for parents to discuss communication issues.

“Our No. 1 goal is to keep children safe. We had a couple parents that spoke (at the meeting) who said that there was no doubt in their minds that, when kids are in school, they’re safe; it’s just when they are outside the school that they worry,” Lelekatch said. “We’ve been working collaboratively with the Police Department, and they’ve been wonderful. The city manager is involved, so we’re working together to make a safe environment both in and outside of school for our students.”

School Board President Craig Wodecki let parents know that if they have any questions or concerns, they can contact the administrators at the school or district. Failing that, parents can contact Wodecki and other school board members, who have contact information listed on the school’s website.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kevin Bunch at kbunch@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.