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Aug
19
2022
Yellow Springs School Board

Board of Education discusses safety, MPA

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At its regular meeting on Thursday, July 14, the YS Board of Education heard comments from several community members concerning safety and security in the schools. The board invited public comments on the topic in an announcement disseminated via the district’s One Call Now system two weeks prior to the meeting.

Before the comments began, board President TJ Turner reminded those present that, though the board would receive the comments, there would be little public discussion about those comments by board members themselves. Citing past meetings that “never made it past the community comments section,” Turner said this condition of the board’s bylaws was “set to help make the meetings more efficient for the board to listen and … for the public to give feedback.”

The majority of comments from the public, including letters that had been submitted by those who could not attend, focused on the physical safety of students in consideration of the deadly May shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

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“In light of many recent events, I think the safety of our staff and students is of utmost importance,” district parent Michele Burns said.

Referring to recent discussions of identified needs in renovating or replacing school facilities, Burns added: “Watching some of the Facilities Committee meetings, I am fearful that safety isn’t more upfront. … There were three [safety] priorities identified in the June meeting, and I’m just not sure that three is enough.”

Dirk Lackovich-Van Gorp, also a district parent, made a number of suggestions to the board about security measures that might be undertaken. His suggestions included limiting student entry and exit points to one set of doors at each building; issuing student and staff IDs at the middle and high schools; limiting public access to the schools; and erecting temporary security vestibules until permanent ones can be built.

“I would like to think that … a year from now, we could turn our society around and become less violent,” he said. “The pragmatic part of me says that’s not going to happen. … That’s the reality, even if I don’t like it.”

Superintendent Terri Holden responded by saying that the district is making some immediate changes to its security policies, including the installation of more cameras around the campuses and the purchase of new staff communication devices. The district has also recently met with the YS Police Department, which she said has offered support to the schools, including the possibility of a part-time school resource officer.

“I just want the public to know that we talk about this every day,” Holden said.

She added that the district will be having “deep discussions” about changes to its safety and security policies.

“We are going to have to come to some decisions about changes we need that will not make people happy,” Holden said, specifically citing limiting “free access to adults in all of [the schools’] academic areas.”

“We’ve been able to do things here that other school districts haven’t done in years, but I think the time might have come for that to end,” she said.

Also presented as part of the safety discussion was a letter written by Lori Askeland and Sarah Sinclair-Amend. Making reference to the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, Askeland read the letter, which addressed district students’ safety needs and ongoing education with regard to “relationships, sexuality, bodies and gender.”

“These issues are always important, but recent current events make it clear to us that they can truly be a matter of life and death for many students, particularly girls and all LGBTQIA+ students,” the letter read.

The letter referred to the district’s 2018 commitment to shoring up education around sex and consent; these commitments followed community concern over the district’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct by a YS High School student. At that time, the district said it would implement film screenings and discussions and further training for staff, add suggestion boxes in the restrooms of the middle and high schools and work on “codifying” sexual consent education for grades 4–12.

“We would like to know where those efforts are at this point,” the letter read.

“There’s a lot to talk about,” Holden responded, adding that she would like to involve both Mills Lawn Elementary School Principal Megan Winston and McKinney and YSHS Principal Jack Hatert, who were not present at the meeting, in further discussion.

“People think about the middle school and high school as the appropriate place for this; there really is an impact on the elementary school as well,” she said.

Later in the meeting, the board scheduled two public work sessions to discuss concerns raised during the community comments portion of the meeting. A work session concerning security and safety will be held Monday, Aug. 29, and another regarding sex and consent education will be held Monday, Sept. 19.

Facilities Committee update

The board unanimously approved a contract with Motz Engineering, which was recently selected as the firm that will serve as the district’s maintenance plan advisor.

Before voting, the board heard a presentation from Michael Murdock, who is owner and vice president of the firm; Murdock gave a similar presentation before the Facilities Committee on Monday, July 11, ahead of the board meeting.

According to the presentation, Motz Engineering will provide the following services in accordance with the negotiated contract in order to assess certain aspects of school facilities needs with regard to renovations, upgrades and maintenance and make recommendations to the district:

• Meet with the district to gain in-depth understanding of goals and objectives; review existing building drawings, engineering drawings and existing equipment inventory; and review a building survey plan.

• Survey buildings to evaluate existing equipment and systems; inventory mechanical and electrical systems; and identify any deficiencies associated with existing buildings.

• Attend meetings with the Facilities Committee to discuss findings and recommendations.

• Prepare a life cycle cost analysis for recommended renovations or upgrades.

• Develop and prepare a report that addresses all issues, findings and recommendations; prepare preliminary budget estimates for the implementation of proposed repairs or upgrades; submit copies of the letter of report for review and comment; revise the letter of report in response to the review process; and conduct a meeting with the school board to formally present the report.

“We’re going to give you kind of a rating, one through five … in terms of it’s very poor or it’s in perfect shape, and we’re also going to give you some budgetary recommendations on how much would it cost to get something that’s in average shape back to like new,” Murdock said. “And then if it’s something that’s obsolete beyond repair we’ll advise you as to what it would cost to replace it.”

Murdock added that the firm will also help prioritize the identified needs with input from the district.

Responding to parents’ comments earlier in the meeting, Murdock pointed out that security appears to be “most important.”

“That’s normally the case, so we can certainly advise and tell you what other school districts have done and consultants that we’ve worked with,” he said.

Murdock also presented a timeline for these services, estimating that a preliminary draft of a report with raw data will be ready by mid-August, with a second draft to follow in early September.

At the July 11 Facilities Committee, Murdock had originally suggested that a final report, based on revisions made by Motz Engineering in conversation with the Facilities Committee and the district, would be ready “no later than” mid-September. However, architect Mike Ruetschle — with whom Murdock’s firm will be working to assess the full scope of the facilities’ needs, and whose contract the board also approved — advised that more time would likely be needed to reach a final report.

“There’s a couple months of wrestling that’s going to happen at the committee and the board level,” Ruetschle said at that meeting.

“And we’re going to need time to have conversations in the larger community,” board member and Facilities Committee liaison Judith Hempfling added.

Following Murdock’s July 14 presentation, school board member Luisa Bieri Rios asked Murdock if Motz Engineering’s services would include an analysis on how to avoid disturbing asbestos present in the buildings during any recommended renovations.

“I understand that there’s a huge impact on potential cost, but also environmental hazard — if we have that kind of renovation happening in the buildings, we would not want any people exposed,” she said.

Murdock answered that the firm would identify asbestos in its report and give an analysis on what it would cost to address it. He suggested that the least expensive route would be to encapsulate exposed asbestos, surrounding it in a protective barrier to decrease the risk of exposure.

At the end of his discussion with the board, Murdock assured those present that Motz Engineering’s findings would be presented thoroughly and in a straightforward manner — particularly with regard to concerns over the structural integrity of the buildings.

“My report will be fairly direct,” he said. “I’m an engineer. I’m a pilot. I don’t say a lot of crap.”

Following the discussion, board President TJ Turner addressed a concern that had been raised by community member David Miller at the July 11 Facilities Committee meeting, which Turner did not feel had been adequately addressed at the time; Turner was filling in for board Vice President and committee liaison Dorothée Bouquet at the meeting.

In reference to the services to be provided by the MPA, Miller said: “It kind of seems like cycling back to what we’ve been doing for six years now. … Hopefully something new comes out of it.”

“The answer to that is that there’s going to be some overlap — maybe even some significant overlap,” Turner said in response. “But there is a different sort of focus on how we’re looking at it and approaching it. … I don’t think that it’s a total repeat, for those who have those concerns. I do think that there will be a different angle and … it’ll be important.”

In other school board business:

• The board approved a new science curriculum from Amplify Science for third through eighth grades.

• In her superintendent’s report, Holden said that the district is almost fully staffed for the 2022–23 school year, and presented a list of all the district’s new hires.

At Mills Lawn: Emily Berlo, physical education teacher; Taylor Hemmerich, fifth-grade teacher; Erika Henry, second-grade teacher; Chandra Jones-Graham, instructional assistant; Breanna Titus, third-grade teacher; Amy Tritschler, intervention specialist.

At McKinney Middle and YS High Schools: Stephanie Fickert, art teacher; Julie Gunn, guidance counselor; Maya Luney-Ballew, student advocate; Rachel Madison, intervention specialist; Eli Ramsey, English teacher; Genevieve Ramsington, school nurse; Morgan Singer, science teacher.

• The schools will hold a community campus beautification day on Saturday, Aug. 6, with work scheduled for each campus in time slots of 9 a.m. to noon and 1–4 p.m. Some tools will be provided by the district. Sign-up will be available soon at ysschools.org. The rain date is Saturday, Aug. 20.

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