Superintendent Laatsch's Report On Bullying in Saline Schools Draws Questions


Bullying continues to be a subject of great interest to members of the Saline Board of Education and the public.

At the July 11 Saline Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Steve Laatsch delivered a report on documented bullying within the district. Before he even took to the podium, Laatsch was criticized for not making the report publicly available.

“Saline’s school system made headlines with the Snapchat incident, poor defending our school’s black students. Now it is poorly defending its transgender and gay students. It seems the only thing this administration has learned from previous scandals is to suppress any report of bullying or staff harassment to the point of persecuting the victims,” Saline resident Libby Williams said.

Laatsch prefaced his report on bullying by saying the documentation is something that Saline Area Schools must work on, and that all school districts should work on.

Laatsch’s report focused on reports that were defined by administrators as “bullying” in Power School app.

“The bullying definition can be interpreted in different ways because sometimes someone may say, if it only happened once, it will be defined as something different. Other people see bullying as something targeted, or built up over time, or that it’s really clear they’re going after a specific student,” Laatsch said. “This is something we’re having conversations with our administration about - how are we making sure to be more consistent?”

In that vein, the district has modified its student handbooks for next year to develop consistent standards, Laatsch said.

Laatsch presented the documented cases of bullying over the last year. They are as follows:

Incidents documented in Power School.


  • When a student would not apologize for something, another student organized a ring of friends to circle a student, leading to a physical altercation

Saline Middle School

  • Bullying and punching a student.
  • Horseplay and name-calling.
  • Bullying a student during recess (twice)
  • Name-calling and insults.
  • Charing at students, bullying and teasing them to start a fight.
  • Bullying a student physically and verbally, using racial harassment and microagressions.
  • Shoving and pushing a student, leading to a fight.
  • Bullying with words, leading to a physical exchange.
  • Words exchange leading to a shoving match.

Saline High school

  • Catcalling and making a student feel uncomfortable.
  • Social media post that made a student feel uncomfortable.
  • A student called attention to another student’s medical condition.
  • Two kids pushing and shoving, leading to a fight.
  • Inappropriate language that made a student feel threatened.

Saline Alternative High School

  • A student encouraged a student to do something inappropriate and against his will, making the student uncomfortable.

Laatsch outlined nine ways the district is trying to prevent bullying in the schools. They included culturally responsible instruction, helping students find trusted adults, the creation of a wellness committee, social work and counseling support, social-emotional learning coaches, social thinking curriculum at elementary schools, social-emotional learning supports like Hornet Time, WEB and Link Crew, and the Be Good People curriculum at Saline Middle School.

Trustee Susan Estep stated that the bullying report, as required by board policy and state law, was somewhat incomplete.

“The actual remedial action or disciplinary action and referrals are not here,” Estep told the board.

Laatsch said if the board wants him to dig further into Power School and provide information about discipline, he can provide it. Laatsch noted that student confidentiality provisions make it difficult to be transparent.

Trustee Tim Austin said bullying is not a new phenomenon and agreed with a public commenter who said that for every report, there were five or six more that were not reported. Austin questioned whether the incident with members of a student section and the dance team was included in the report.

Austin said he believed that being transparent about the issue and punishments can help create a culture that stands against bullying.

“I think we can define the consequences to the students in a way that does not (break confidentiality rules),” Austin said. “You don’t have to give out a student’s name. In the situation with the basketball game, we could have said there were four students involved in that incident and they were suspended from all home basketball games. At least the public now knows there is something being done.”

Austin also asked if there was historical data to see how things are trending.

“We are throwing a lot of resources at this so I hope we’re trending down,” Austin said.

Austin said he was in agreement with members of the public who said the report should be public.

Vice President Jennifer Steben noted that the district has spent COVID-19 money on social-emotional support, especially at the middle school level, and asked if that money is running out.

Laatsch said that money could run out over the next several years, but the district still has access to grant money for social-emotional programs for a couple more years.

“What do we do after two years and there are no other sources of funding, and enrollment is down and we need to make cuts? Yes, there could be some impacts there,” Laatsch said.

Trustee Brad Gerbe said he appreciated the “Three Bs” program his kids had at Woodland Meadows. He asked how each school chooses values to instill in the students.

Laatsch said building principals at the elementary level have the freedom to decide what programs they want to create at the schools, though the district is now coordinating that all three elementary schools have a social learning element.

“They are different types of programs, but they are all focused around social learning, which is more or less social-emotional support for our kids so they support each other and deal better with conflict,” Laatsch said.

The middle school, where a lot of the issues take place, has the new Be Good People program after principal Michelle Szczechowicz consulted staff and administration.

Trustee Estep once again made the case against allowing students to opt out of lessons that are designed to provide social-emotional learning lessons. She said some families have opted their students out of Hornet Time, a high school home-room time, because of time devoted to Diversity Equity and Inclusion topics.

“If we are using that time to have that conversation about how we see each other and understand each other, that doesn’t to be a place where (opting out) would be appropriate,” Estep said.

At the end of meeting, during public comment, Libby Williams noted the bullying report did not list incidents of bullying done by staff. Lisa Slawson noted that the report never once mentioned LGBTQ students. Meghan Gunnerson said she was concerned about the accuracy of the report. She noted that there were no physical assaults noted at the middle school despite a mom who told the board her son was sexually assaulted there. She noted the high school was closed for two days after “kill lists” were scrawled onto a bathroom wall - but there didn’t seem to be a corresponding case in Laatsch’s report.

“At the risk of sounding crass, I don’t believe those numbers. I think they are total nonsense,” Gunnerson said. “As a middle school and high school mom.I am very concerned about safety.. We eliminated a Dean of Students position and my understanding is the kids liked that person a lot. And you got rid of the resource officer at the district. Transparency remains an issue.”

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