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Yellow Springs School Board

New school board members take seats

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The Yellow Springs school board’s annual organizational meeting, conducted in the Mills Lawn gym on Thursday, Jan. 13, began ceremoniously with the swearing in of its three newest members: Dorothée Bouquet, Judith Hempfling and Amy Magnus.

Elected in November, the trio took turns vowing to uphold the Constitution of the United States and promising to protect the welfare of the local public school district.

They joined Luisa Bieri Rios, who was appointed to the board in late November to fill Sylvia Ellison’s unexpired term, and TJ Turner, who has served on the board since 2018.

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Given Turner’s relative longevity compared to everyone else, board members unanimously agreed to appoint him as board president for the new calendar year.

Division arose, however, in naming the vice president. Magnus nominated Judith Hempfling, a former president of Village Council with whom Magnus had campaigned for school board election on a platform that included opposition to the failed facilities levy. Bieri Rios, however, nominated Bouquet, who like her and Turner had supported the levy. The vote split 3–2, with Bieri Rios and Turner choosing Bouquet, who voted for herself; and Magnus voting for Hempfling, who also voted for herself.

There was no discussion among the board members about the nominations or the vote results, but some Village members have expressed concern that Hempfling, who received the most votes in the fall election, was pushed to the side.

Board members were in agreement, however, about hosting a monthly work session to discuss district-related business and issues in an open setting. They settled on the fourth Monday of the month, beginning at 7 p.m., with the first work session to be Jan. 24. The initial agenda includes board protocols and processes.

COVID-19 data

Once the organizational matters were taken care of Thursday, the board took a short break and then conducted a regular business meeting.

With COVID-19 case numbers reaching historically high levels across the state, and many neighboring school districts canceling classes and/or temporarily transitioning to online instruction, Superintendent Terri Holden presented a report about the situation in Yellow Springs schools.

Breaking down the case numbers for each of the eight school days between the Tuesday, Jan. 4, return to classes after winter break and the day of the board meeting, Holden said school administrators believe that the district is doing a good job in managing the virus’s spread.

At Mills Lawn Elementary School, the total number of student absences numbered 29 on Jan. 4; 22.5 on Jan. 5; 35.5 on Jan. 6; and 40 on Jan. 7. Of those absences, nine were in COVID-related quarantine, with one positive case, on the 4th; three were in quarantine, with one positive case, on the 5th; 5.5 were quarantined, with three positive cases, on the 6th; and 11 quarantined, with four positive cases, on the 7th.

The Mills Lawn student numbers the following week were:
Monday, Jan. 10: 45 total absences, 13 in quarantine, four positive
Tuesday, Jan. 11: 46 total, 11 in quarantine, five positive
Wednesday, Jan. 12: 35.5 total, 12 in quarantine, five positive
Thursday, Jan. 13: 42 total, 12 in quarantine, six positive.

Mills Lawn staff absences were:
Jan. 4: two total absences, one positive case
Jan 5: 1.5 total absences, no positive cases
Jan. 6: two total absences, no positive cases
Jan. 7: two total absences, with no positive cases
Jan. 10: three total absences, three positive cases
Jan. 11: 5.5 total absences, four positive cases
Jan. 12: four total absences, four positive cases
Jan. 13: two total absences, two positive cases

McKinney Middle School/YS High School student numbers were:
Jan. 4: 63 total absences, with 35 in quarantine and seven positive cases
Jan. 5: 63 total, 29 in quarantine, six positive
Jan. 6: 63 total, 35 in quarantine, five positive
Jan. 7: 79 total, 39 in quarantine, 10 positive
Jan. 10: 72 total, 37 in quarantine, 14 positive
Jan. 11: 63 total, 33 in quarantine, 14 positive
Jan. 12: 62 total, 34 in quarantine, 15 positive
Jan. 13: 108 total, 35 in quarantine, 14 positive

Holden noted that the jump in total absences on the 13th were likely due to the fact that the school had held a booster clinic the day before, and students were feeling the effects.

McKinney Middle School/YS High School staff numbers were:
Jan. 4: two total absences, one positive case
Jan. 5: three total, one positive
Jan. 6: two total, one positive
Jan. 7: five total, three positive
Jan. 10: six total, three positive
Jan. 11: seven total, two positive
Jan. 12: two total, two positive
Jan. 13: three total, two positive

Holden attributed the relatively low numbers among staff to the vaccination levels in the district. Of staff, 100% at Mills Lawn, 98% at the middle/high school and 91% in the district office are vaccinated, she reported, asserting that the main reason other districts are closing temporarily is because they don’t have enough healthy staff to stay open.

“If I recommended going remote, it would be because of staffing,” she said.

More than half of the district’s 673 students are vaccinated as well, according to the results of a survey of district’s families, Holden reported. Out of the responses for 395 students, 371 were reported to be vaccinated. No response came back for 278 students, while 23 reported being unvaccinated and one declined to disclose their status.

“School is absolutely the safest place for our kids,” Holden concluded, listing other considerations in continuing in-person instruction:

• The observance of an increase in mental health issues and a decrease in grade-appropriate social behaviors after a year of remote learning;

• Students don’t necessarily stay isolated during remote learning;

• Parents working outside the home may not be able to call off or find child care;

• Parents working from home may not have the capacity to also manage their child’s learning;

• Many students depend on their school for breakfast and lunch;

• Students lose connections to their peers when they’re learning from home;

• Involvement in extracurricular and athletic activities is vital for many students.

Board members expressed gratitude for Holden’s report, and supported the decision to continue with in-person instruction.

The district has “consistently made the right decisions” concerning the pandemic, Turner said.

“And I think we’re still making the right decisions. We’ve consistently used the science, and I appreciate that.”

Other business from the Jan. 13 meeting will be reported in a future issue of the News.

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