(Editor's Note: The Saline Post is retracting this story. We've since learned this letter is not related to the racial comments made by Saline students on social media. In fact, this letter was drafted before the incident took place and is a response to the tenor of discussions taking place around the school community.)
With offending students in the process of being disciplined and a statement of condemnation issued by Saline Area Schools administrators, the next step the Saline schools Board of Education takes begins with a letter imploring the community's students and parents to strive to be better people towards each other.
Earlier in the week, Superintendent Scot Graden issued a statement condemning the actions of students who targeted African-American students in particular in directing hateful images, racist epithets, and slurs on the Snapchat social media platform.
Board of Education President Heidi Pfannes read aloud a first draft of the letter that is being mailed out this week (the following is typed from the verbal reading of the draft letter by Pfannes at Tuesday evening's regular school board meeting):
Dear Saline Community.
Over the past year we have all been a witness to the scorn in our community. We have been listening to the many voices reaching out; however, our biggest disappointment has been the lack of respect for others in the process.
The mission of Saline Area Schools states: we the Saline Area Schools will equip all students with the knowledge, technical proficiency and personal skills ... necessary skills to succeed in an increasingly complex society. Our goals are to help our students meet or exceed in their curricular areas and acquire the skills to be continuous learners, productive citizens in an increasingly global society.
It is our desire to strengthen family school relationships and expand the partnerships that support student achievement. We are striving to enhance the positive school environment that promotes student and staff well-being, satisfaction, and positive morale. And we need to establish both short term financial stability and long-term fiscal solvency.
We understand we are living in a very complex society. There are so many interests of so many people and as a society we are attempting to navigate this world in the best ways we know. There is no way we can all agree on everything or share the same values. Some people may feel confused, threatened, or offended for a variety of personal reasons; however, we feel very strongly it's important to respect people with varying opinions and values.
We don't all have to agree, but we do need to seek to understand and to treat each other with respect and kindness. Together we can collaboratively build solutions, but we must work together in a respectful environment to do so.
Beginning in the elementary we are teaching our children the rules of engagement including to be respectful. We need to follow that lead. Woodland Meadows starts by talking about the three B's - Be safe, Be responsible, Be respectful. Pleasant Ridge teaches the High 5's: be safe, be responsible, be respectful, be polite, and respond when spoken to. Harvest 4 reinforces we are responsible for what we say, what we do, and how we help, how we listen. It is our responsibility as adults in this community to demonstrate the values we are attempting to teach our children.
If we could each step back and consider how we want our kids to treat one another, we must first look at ourselves in the mirror. Are we being the people we want our kids to be. Are we practicing the kindness that we hope for in the world. Our children will learn the behavior we model.
It saddens us beyond measure to see the hurtful things being said and done to others in the community. We must stop hurting each other. Think before you speak, text, or write. Will this message lift someone up or tear them down.
We believe that we as a community are better than this, and that's what makes living in Saline so special. It is with our hope for healing and faith that we can bring this community back together and love for one another that we ask for your help.
We can do this Saline.
The letter received unanimous support from the school board.
Board Secretary Tim Austin shared his own remarks that were very similar to some of the themes in the draft letter.
"I think we need to reflect on the words that we say and write," he read from a prepared statement. "It is our job in the community to treat others the way we wish to be treated: with dignity, respect, compassion, and love. It is our job as parents to teach our children to treat others the same way we wish to be treated: with dignity, respect, compassion, and love."
Specifically, in response to the letter Pfannes read, Austin said, "I cannot agree more" and expressed his belief that the letter "has been needed for awhile."
Board Trustee Michael McVey said he appreciated the letter, particularly, he said, because he cannot respond to comments as an individual on social media due to his status as an elected board trustee.
"I do appreciate that we have a single voice coming out through this," he added.
Board Vice President Paul Hynek suggested changing "I" to "we" in the letter (this change is already included in the transcribed draft above.)
Board Trustee Jennifer Steben referred to what's been happening on the topic of social justice in the district as "a lot of turmoil" that has produced personal attacks within the community, some of which have targeted board members in addition to students.
"There have been many calls to reveal student names," Steben said. "It is not acceptable. We need to support anything that resets that expectation of the level of excellence that we can all maintain."
Board Trustee Dennis Valenti cited "To Kill A Mockingbird" where protagonist Atticus Finch recommends wearing another man's skin for a time and seeing the world from someone else's point of view.
"I guess that's what I'm trying to ask other people to do; try to see things from other peoples' point of view - be respectful. That's all."
Board Trustee Susan Estep said she wanted to add more specificity to the discussion through her comments.
"I want to be more specific about where this is coming from," she said. "Not necessarily over this past week, but maybe into that ... a lot of social media public comments specifically that are anti-LGBTQ, that is racist, and so I want to name that specifically. I believe and hopefully the board can speak to this as well, that we do support our staff and students, so I think that needs to be said."
Steben added that social media is at the center of the controversy and that the comments expressing the different opinions on the issues "are not appropriate" and "there's been a line crossed at times."