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Yellow Springs Schools opt for locked doors

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At its December meeting, the school board agreed to go forward with plans to add a buzzer and camera to the front doors of Mills Lawn Elementary, a decision spurred by recent events in that school. Consequently, the doors to the school will be locked in both the front and the back, with visitors needing to get approval before entering.

A similar securing measure will be implemented at McKinney Middle and Yellow Springs High School.

“The latest incident raised a significant amount of concern in our teachers,” Basora said in an interview last week.

 Last week, a 30 year-old former student walked into the school, where he wandered around for a little while, “without any identifiable purpose,” and appeared to be disoriented and confused, according to a letter sent to parents. The man was able to enter the school unhindered, as Mills Lawn has an open door policy and previously did not lock its doors during school hours. School employees were able to usher the former student into the principal’s office, where they then called police to have him escorted from the premises.

The  former student returned to Mills Lawn the next day and was again removed from the building. According to the police report of the incident, a staff member at the Mills Park Hotel reported that the same individual was yelling at workers and patrons in that establishment a little while later. Police officers found him elsewhere downtown and arrested him for criminal trespassing, as he had been previously barred from the hotel.

The event was somewhat rattling, Basora said at the board’s Dec. 8 meeting, and after discussion with Mills Lawn teachers and staff, the feeling was “overwhelming” that some kind of security measure should be in place that would make it difficult for people to wander into the building. As such, the district is currently exploring options to implement a doorbell and video camera for the school’s front door, and possibly for the rear entrance as well. Basora said he is currently looking into security systems that look the “least institutional,” and hopes to have the security apparatus in place by the time students return from winter break. The equipment will be paid for by funds from the district’s permanent improvement fund.

While acknowledging that the measure likely wouldn’t stop a determined individual from gaining entrance, it may buy staff members time or make an intruder reconsider the decision, Basora said. But it’s less the threat of a determined trespasser that worries staff but rather the casual disruptions to the school day. While it doesn’t happen often, parents have on a few occasions entered the school to yell at a staff member or a student who isn’t their child, Basora said. Custody issues have likewise been problematic, and the district wants to make sure that it knows who is picking a student up, and if this person is authorized to do so. 

Implementing security measures is an issue he has “vacillated on for years,” and has mixed views on, Basora said. Many parents and staff members feel that an open-door policy is a reflection of the values of trust and openness that they want to instill in students. The district has to revisit its safety plan every year, and until now, there hadn’t been an issue that so strongly prompted consideration of something like a door buzzer. 

A letter was sent to parents after the incident, outlining what happened and the steps the district plans to take. Basora said he has received significant feedback from community members, including some criticism of the proposed security measures. However, the security features are a concession that brings some peace of mind to the Mills Lawn staff, he said.

“If teachers aren’t feeling safe, I have an obligation to listen to them,” Basora said. “They understand student safety in ways that administrators and parents do not.”

Board member Steve Conn said he appreciated that “the impulse wasn’t to overreact” to the intruder. Open doors send an important message to kids about the district’s culture, he said, and the district needs to think about how this message of openness is going to be maintained in light of the new security measures.

Basora agreed, saying that “putting up walls is counterintuitive, and doesn’t present a friendly face to kids or community members.” However, he doesn’t think this security feature will have a significant impact on the school’s culture. The back and side doors are locked when students go out for recess, he said, and so lining up to go back inside before teachers unlock a door is a routine students are already familiar with.

In other school board business:

• The district will implement the American College Testing, or ACT, exam as the test students need to take to graduate, replacing the Ohio Graduation Test that is slowly being phased out. New state requirements require that juniors take either the ACT or SAT, and schools are able to pick which test they want students to take. According to a handout given by YSHS/McKinney principal Tim Krier at the meeting, while the “district doesn’t normally teach to tests,” the ACT not only fulfills state requirements but gives students a leg-up in the college admissions process, as most colleges require ACT or SAT scores. Moreover, because the tests are a requirement, the state is funding the testing. (Taking the ACT would cost an individual around $40.) A group of YSHS students is currently looking into materials and methods, such as practice tests, to help students prepare to take the test in the spring.

A high score on the ACT can also be used to fulfill graduation testing requirements, one of a few ways that students accumulate the 17 points they need in order to graduate. An ACT score of 27 (out of 36) means the student can automatically graduate, Basora said, but the requirement is “disingenuous,” as such a score is in the 87th percentile and not easily achieved, especially by students who have difficulty taking tests. He expressed concern that matriculation rates could be reduced as a result of these requirements.

“We at Yellow Springs are adamantly opposed to this graduation requirement,” Basora said. “I believe that the school board should be determining these standards.”

• Third- through sixth-grade students recently competed in a spelling bee at Mills Lawn elementary. The competition was so fierce and the students such proficient spellers that the bee lasted over 90 minutes. 

.• Cara Haywood has been hired as an assistant to Treasurer Dawn Bennett.Haywood is “proactive, tech-savvy, eager to learn and very outgoing,” Bennett said in a handout. Haywood is starting at $26.16 an hour.

• A plaque was issued to outgoing custodian Jerry Upton, who is retiring after 30 years of service to the district. Housh presented the plaque, saying that “Upton is friendly as all get-out and has done a lot to make the schools a better place.” Upton expressed his gratitude to school staff, students and parents, and noted that he will likely be returning as a substitute bus driver.

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