Saline Addresses School Safety

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Saline Area Schools is taking measures to ensure the safety of its students. In the wake of the recent mass shooting in Oxford, Michigan, Superintendent Steve Laatsch dedicated much of Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting to update the Board on what measures are being taken.

“I think we are all partners in keeping our community safe. Our students, our staff, the Board of Education,” Laatsch said, December 14.

But Tuesday’s meeting is not going to be the last place where school safety will be discussed this school year. Parents will be able to address school safety concerns at a “community conversation” meeting at the Liberty School, January 20, at 6:30 p.m.

Laatsch says that SAS is using its $67.5 million 2015 bond to secure entrances, update cyber security, improve pedestrian flow around school campuses, install safety glass, provide staff with proximity security cards and invest in facial recognition technology. Procedurally, the district is also working with the Washtenaw County Emergency Operations Plan, the Raptor visitor tracking program, and with the ALICE training system, which provides a plan for lockdowns.

“I think our focus here in Saline is mental health and wellness; making sure that when there is a red flag that we respond to that quickly. Having enough trained clinical staff, people who are aware of mental health issues and can respond to those concerns quickly is a concern and really should be a priority,” Carol Melcher, the principal of the alternative high school, said when asked what else Saline can do.

Saline has hired three new behavior specialists recently, according to school officials.

Mass shootings tend to produce copycats and rumors across social media. The district has been working closely with the Saline Police Department and Pittsfield Department of Public Safety since the Thursday following the attack in Oxford to track down rumors of a similar incident at Saline, which has so far proven to be little more than rumor, according to Saline Police Chief Jerrod Hart.

“There were several students sharing a screenshot – sometimes adding to the screenshot to dial in on the time. What we are working on with the school is: ‘What is the best way to report this?’ If someone feels that there is a threat against the school, or a specific student, we want them to dial 911 [or] reporting it to Ok To Say, versus screenshotting and spreading it on Snapchat. That is what we spent the majority of that Friday doing, tacking down, person to person, those who shared the screenshot, to try and see if we could get to the original poster,” Hart said in an interview by phone. “We’re going to submit these cases to the prosecutor and let them determine whether any charges are ever actually authorized.”

The district and Saline police and the Pittsfield Township Department of Public Safety are working together to monitor the situation and say they have done everything possible to find the original source of the rumor that specifically cited Saline.

“It was a Snapchat post that got sent around. It started a domino effect with other districts … This is what closed a lot of open county schools. They named Saline in that and that just kept going throughout the county,” Laatsch said. “Then there were some students online, who embellished the information and started to name specific times of the day when that happened. As a result we had to make sure that we investigate that thoroughly to make sure there was no credible threat, which there wasn’t. But it scared kids, community members, parents.”

The problem is simply the volume or chatter that originated from Snapchat, Laatsch said. Hart said that the appropriate way to respond to threats or rumors on social media was not to spread or speculate, but to report it to law enforcement or school officials. You can do that via the Ok To Say program or through 911.

Image Credit: Scot Graden, former superintendent of Saline Area Schools.

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