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Yellow Springs School Board

At the Aug. 10 Board of Education regular meeting, Superintendent Terri Holden presented an analysis of instances in which middle and high school students were disciplined for violating the district's technology misuse policy. (Image courtesy of Oxford Learning)

Yellow Springs Board of Education to pursue phone plan

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The Board of Education returned to a discussion of phones in schools at its Aug. 10 regular meeting; the board originally discussed the issue at a July 6 meeting after receiving a letter from 16 district parents concerned about how phones affect school environments.

Referring to discussion of the issue at a recent administration retreat, Superintendent Terri Holden said: “One of my team said, ‘We just need to teach the kids to use [phones] the right way,’ which I don’t disagree with. But I also know that I am terrible when I have my cell phone with me — and I’m an adult with a fully developed frontal lobe. We’re asking children who aren’t there yet, developmentally, to do things that we ourselves are not necessarily willing to do.”

Holden presented a data analysis of instances in which students in the middle and high schools were disciplined for violating the district’s technology misuse policy over the last two school years. According to the analysis, in those two years, there were 55 incidents in the middle school and 84 incidents in the high school.

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“This [data] is very minimal compared to the number of disruptions that actually occur,” McKinney Middle School and Yellow Springs High School Principal Jack Hatert clarified. “These are only the disruptions that result in discipline, [and don’t include] the day-to-day interactions of a teacher having to redirect multiple students within a class period.”

With these things in mind, Holden said the district is aiming to pursue the use of Yondr pouches, which allow students to keep their cell phones on their person, but magnetically locked until the end of the school day. As reported in a previous issue of the News, several other Miami Valley schools, including in Fairborn and Dayton, have begun using the pouches.

The cost of the pouches — which students will be expected to take home with them and bring back each day — is $22 per unit, for a total cost of about $7,700 for the first year, with a decrease in price in following years.

Using the Yondr pouches will necessitate a changes for student arrival and dismissal: Under staff supervision, students will be required to turn off their phones and lock them in the pouches in the morning. In the afternoon, students must tap the pouches on a base at the school exit which will magnetically unlock the pouch.

Holden said that, at the earliest, the district would begin using the Yondr pouches in the second quarter this year.

“This does not happen immediately,” she said. “This takes discussion with the board, with Yondr … with parents, students and teachers, because at every level, this can break down.”

Holden added that parents who are concerned about being able to reach their child during the school day will still be able to do so by calling the school.

“That’s the beauty of us being small — we can deliver a message or we can bring your child down to the office to call from the office phone,” she said.

Hatert said he believes that keeping students away from their phones during the school day may be a “refreshing change” for them.

“It’s the break that they need from their devices that we will be providing for them,” he said. “And while it would be hard in the beginning, I think ultimately, they would appreciate that break.”

“I think we can expect there to be some pushback by these conversations, because any kind of cultural change is hard,” school board member Luisa Bieri Rios added. “But when we look at that data … I think it really creates a compelling case to just give our teachers and kids a break.”

Update on House Bill 33

Holden outlined some key points of House Bill 33, which was signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine on July 4. Some aspects of the bill, which contains a long list of changes and updates to educational policy in the state, are already in effect, and others go into effect in October.

Top among the effects of the bill are an overhaul of public school governance, with the governor now gaining the power to appoint the director of the Department of Education and Workforce, or DEW — a new name for the previous Department of Education — with advisement from the senate. The DEW will be given a larger share of responsibility for state education policy. At the same time, the responsibilities of the Ohio School Board and state superintendent will diminish; moving forward, they will only oversee licensure, disciplinary measures and school district transcripts.

“While that may not seem like much, that is a huge change,” Holden said.

The bill also includes income tax cuts for school district residents, reducing the number of tax brackets from four to two and increasing the income threshold from $26,050 to $100,000 by tax year 2025. In addition, a Commercial Activity Tax cut will exempt many businesses from paying the tax. Both changes will affect the revenue school districts are able to collect.

Changes to the EdChoice Program, which provides funding for public school students to instead attend private schools, are also included in the bill. The changes include removing a requirement that students first attend public school before entering a private school and now providing partial voucher funding for families who previously would not have qualified for funding.

“This is potential funding for public schools in Ohio that has now gone to private schools,” Holden said.

The bill includes an expansion of the annual back-to-school sales tax holiday beginning next year and increased funding for mental health and substance abuse programming.

Also included is the creation of a new scholarship program that will award $5,000 to students graduating in the top 5% of their classes who attend Ohio public institutions, beginning in 2025.

“That is key for us — that’s four or five kids, depending upon the number of graduates,” Holden said.

In other school board business:

The board approved a quote of $30,650 from Barnes Wildlife Control for the abatement of bats in the middle and high school buildings.

“Normally for anything over $25,000, we would get two quotes, but this is an emergency situation,” Treasurer Jacob McGrath said, referring to the need to get rid of the bats by the start of the school year.

“I want to say we didn’t wait to do this; we had the roof repaired [at the middle and high schools],” Holden said. “They were fixing the fascia — are the two connected? I don’t know, but literally in the past week, there were — I’m just gonna say it — bats flying up and down the main hall.”

The abatement includes sealing points of entry through which bats had previously gotten into the school buildings, trimming trees that are providing entry points for the animals and blocking access to repairs, the removal of wasp and yellow jacket nests and a renewable warranty with scheduled follow-up visits from Barnes Wildlife Control annually.

McGrath added that, though the bats will no longer have access to school buildings, the district is working toward securing bat houses for the campus down the road.

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