5 Takeaways from Tuesday's Saline Area Schools Board of Education Meeting

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The Saline Area Schools Board of Education met Tuesday for a study session. It was their final meeting of March. Here are five things you might be interested in knowing.

No Changes in the Return to Learn Plan

Students in grades 4-12 whose families chose in-person learning in grades 4-12 are still scheduled to transition from the hybrid, twice-a-week model, to a four-day-a-week model starting April 5. Interim Superintendent Steve Laatsch updated the board on the district's plans.

Cases and hospitalizations of been rising in Michigan, and now the same is starting to happen in Washtenaw County, as a spring COVID-19 wave has begun to surge. The Washtenaw surge isn't as pronounced and, in his presentation to the board, Laatsch was using a two-week snapshot released by the county Thursday, so it didn't reflect the recent rise.

Laatsch noted that there are fewer positive cases within the district, fewer quarantines, and that there still has not been any known spread at Heritage, Saline Middle or Saline High School. In addition, Laatsch said, 100 percent of the teachers who want to be vaccinated will be vaccinated by April 5.

Laatsch said the district understands the importance of getting students back to school.

"We're really looking at the whole child, with social-emotional health," Laatsch said. "We're to a point where we feel like it's a greater risk by not going back to a four-day-a-week program after spring break."

Laatsch showed a slide with tips for parents to help with their children's social-emotional learning.

Laatsch also asked families to be responsible on spring break so they didn't bring COVID-19 back into the schools.

Bridge to Civility Engagement Session.

In the wake of last year's racial issues in the community, school district officials decided the community needs a forum to talk. Tuesday, Interim Superintendent Laatsch introduced the Saline Bridge to Civility to the Board of Education. 

Laatsch has previously talked to the Board about the Bridge to Civility - a document or protocol develop nine norms to have better, more civil conversations.

The first engagement session to use the protocol is scheduled for April 14. It will take place over Zoom. 

"The purpose is to build relationships across multiple dimensions of diversity through civil conversations and discussions that enable the exchange of ideas," Laatsch said. "I think it's important to realize that not everybody agrees with each other as it relates to this."

There will be numerous breakout rooms will be "my diversity story," where everybody looks at the ways they are diverse. Future sessions will be held:

  • May 4, Observe & Reflect; Speak One's Truth
  • May 10, Debate the Issue, Respect the Person, All for Emotion.
  • May 26, Engage Directly and Accept Lack of Closure.

"Our community needs a time to talk. We need a forum, in which we look back on some of the racist incidents that occurred with some of our high school students on social media about a year ago, and in this very Board of Education room," Laatsch said. "On top of some of these recent shootings we've seen in Atlanta and now Boulder, our community really does need a forum to continue our conversation and we want to do it in a civil manner using the Saline Bridge to Civility."

Saline-Japan Exchange

High school social studies teacher John Fox and three students talked about their experience overcoming COVID-19 to have a virtual exchange-student experience this year. Fox told the board Saline has been doing exchanges in Japan since 2009. In 2016, Saline students visited central Japan and created a relationship with a teacher named Takeuchi-sensei at a high school in Hamamatsu, located between Osaka and Tokyo, near Mount Fuji.

Takeuchi-sensei's teachers, prepping for college, were scheduled to go to Australia this year to learn English, among other things. But due to COVID-19, the program was canceled.

So Takeuchi-sensei reached out to Fox to see if she could have her students communicate with students at Saline High School, first by email and then by Zoom. Hunt found 40 students who were interested in doing the exchange during their own time.

"It's really cool they took time to do this outside of class to go back and forth with these with these emails and then  put together these zoom calls, which were not easy to organize because of the time difference," Hunt said.

Freshmen Lyndsy Gilless and Megan Clauser and senior Hibah Khan spoke to the board about their experience.

Gilless said she was surprised how well her "penpal" spoke English.

Khan, who's traveled to Japan before, signed up for the program because she's interested in East Asian culture.

"I went to Japan before and she's also traveled outside of Japan. So we were able to connect on a more global level and discuss that type of stuff, as well as music and TV shows," Khan said.

She and her penpal are now friends on social media.

Megan Clauser actually had two penpals from Japan.

"I strongly believe that we should do this again in the future because it was beneficial for me to be able to have this interaction. I believe it was better for the other students at Saline and I think it was also beneficial for the Japanese students that we worked with," Clauser said.

School Bus Purchases

The board approved the purchase of 4 2021 IC 77 Passenger School Buses at a cost of $445,256.  The purchase will be made from Midwest Transit using the  MSBO Cooperative bus purchase program. Saline Area Schools will receive grant funds of $102,000 from EGLE and the Volkswagen State Mitigation Trust to decommission four old diesel buses and replace them with "Clean Diesel" buses.

SAS Operation Specialist Tracey Mulcare collaborated
with The Brown City School Bus Purchase Consortium, which received a $1,9 million grant to fund the purchase of 44 diesel and 20 propane buses for the 19 school districts in the consortium.

The district's fleet has been upgraded with 16 IC buses since 2017.

The 2021 model buses will include a new camera system that allows improved visibility and picture quality with 1080p high-definition cameras. The district will also add two exterior cameras to assist with Stop Arm prosecution, and with real-time "look-in's" while the students are loading unloading at district facilities. the cameras will give the administration the ability to access the video without having to send a mechanic to "pull the card."

No Updates on the Superintendent Search

There were no superintendent search updates provided during the meeting.

(Article was amended to change the name of the teacher from Japan to Takeuchi-sensei.

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Mr. Latsch, It is important to note that no evidence has been found to say the Atlanta or Boulder shootings were racially motivated, but  it has been found that both shooters suffered from mental health issues. 

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But the official said the senseless killer “was having a bad day”. Do you believe that? Excuses that officials or personals found for those crazy behaviors will provide the nutrition for racial sentiment to grow, which will eventually and sadly raise more 21-year-old killers in our country.

Mr. Laatsch did the right thing. Any type of killing and hate crime behaviors should be condemned publicly so our kids can distinguish between right from wrong.

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