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Apr
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2024
Yellow Springs School Board

A special YS school board meeting was held on Thursday, Feb. 15, with the purpose of discussing and voting on the censure of board member Amy Magnus. The only board members present were Amy Bailey (left) and Dorothée Bouquet. Absent were Magnus, Board President Judith Hempfling and Vice President Rebecca Potter. (Video still)

Attempt to censure school board member stalls

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A special meeting of the YS school board — scheduled Thursday, Feb. 15, in order to discuss and vote on the censure of a board member — ended about eight minutes after it started due to a lack of quorum. Because only board members Amy Bailey and Dorothée Bouquet were present for the meeting, a vote on the proposed censure could not be made.

Board President Judith Hempfling, Vice President Rebecca Potter and board member Amy Magnus were unable to attend the special meeting due to scheduling conflicts, according to documents shared with the News.

The special meeting was called by Bailey and Bouquet for the purpose of censuring Magnus; though special meetings are typically called by the board president, the board’s bylaws allow special meetings to be called by two board members. A public notice announcing the meeting was posted to the YS school district and YS News websites Tuesday, Feb. 13, and agenda documents were posted to the district’s BoardDocs page 24 hours ahead of the meeting.

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Censure requested

According to agenda documents for the special meeting, Superintendent Terri Holden emailed board President Hempfling on Saturday, Feb. 10, and requested that Magnus be censured at the board’s next regular meeting in March. In explaining the request, Holden cited a message Magnus sent to a YS teacher earlier that day; the message reads: “Your anger is palpable. It is also misplaced.”

The message appears to reference public comments the teacher made two days prior during the board’s regular meeting Thursday, Feb. 8. As reported in last week’s issue of the News, 20 local residents and educators, including the teacher who was messaged by Magnus, spoke at the Feb. 8 meeting, sharing concerns about the district’s facilities improvement project.

In particular, community comments responded to a proposal by board member Rebecca Potter to create an advisory committee centered on a performing arts space planned for the middle and high school campus upgrade. Several who spoke, including the teacher messaged by Magnus, said they worried that the committee proposal contained language that appeared to suggest diverting levy funds away from the performing arts space to other areas of the facilities improvement project; Potter later assured those present that there are no such plans for the advisory committee.

In her email to Hempfling, Holden also cited an instance in which Magnus emailed the superintendent following a Dec. 14 regular board meeting. The email from Magnus refers to a discussion in that board meeting, which was at times heated, during which Magnus requested that the board add a phrase about renewable energy to a request for qualifications, or RFQ, the board was set to approve that night as the first step toward hiring an architect for the district’s facilities improvement project.

The district’s legal counsel, Ben Hyden of Bricker & Graydon, said during the December meeting that the addition of the phrase to the RFQ would not noticeably change the range of applicants the district received. Holden said she believed the phrases “energy efficiency” and “sustainability,” which were already part of the RFQ, were broad enough to include renewable energy when considering architect applicants, and that making an addition to the RFQ would mean sending it back to legal counsel for revision, delaying its approval until the following month.

Holden added that the RFQ language had been shared with board members several days in advance, and contended that Magnus should have suggested inserting the phrase about renewable energy prior to the meeting, before the official RFQ approval document was added to the agenda, to avoid delay. Magnus maintained that the addition of the phrase was a minor edit to the RFQ’s language. The RFQ was ultimately approved by the board without the suggested addition from Magnus.

Magnus wrote later that night to Holden of the meeting and discussion: “If [a document is] under discussion for the first time in a public meeting, you should be prepared to take revisions. … I’m at a loss at whatever demons you all were battling tonight. If the schedule is already so tight that you can’t consider a minor edit, you are already backed too tight against the wall.”

In her email to Hempfling recommending the censure, Holden also referred to an instance in January in which Magnus posted comments in the thread of a Facebook post discussing Yondr pouches, which were recently implemented at the middle and high schools.

Holden requested that Magnus be censured for a “pattern of inappropriate communication,” stating that said pattern constituted a “clear violation of board policy.”

Holden referred to section 0148.1 of the school board’s bylaws, which concerns communication between board members and staff. The section reads in part: “All official communications, policies, and directives of the Board of staff interest and concern to the staff will generally be communicated through the Superintendent, who shall also keep staff members informed of the Board’s concerns and actions.”

Though Holden’s email to Hempfling requested that the censure be added to the agenda of the board’s March regular meeting, Bouquet said during the abbreviated special meeting last week that she and Bailey had called the meeting sooner in order to signal to YS schools staff that the board was “not complacent with the accusation that was on the table.”

“I wanted to make sure that they felt heard and considered in the vehicle for justice here,” Bouquet said during the special meeting.

Bouquet also addressed questions she said she’d received from members of the public, including why the censure was being conducted publicly.

With regard to the public nature of the censure, Bouquet pointed to documents included on the special meeting’s agenda, stating that she had attempted to communicate with Magnus privately in past instances, but that ultimately she believed, based on those instances that private conversation “could not happen.” The documents to which Bouquet referred include emails between Bouquet and Magnus in December, following Magnus’ Dec. 14 email exchange with Holden and a Facebook post Magnus made expressing disappointment with the way the Dec. 14 meeting was handled, citing bullying.

A second email from Bouquet to Magnus notes that Magnus declined an offer from Holden to discuss the allegations of bullying in a private meeting; a response email from Magnus requests an apology and maintains that “the most appropriate time to discuss the breakdown in decorum that happened at the [Dec. 14] meeting is with the full board at our next regular meeting.” The issue was not addressed by the board at the following regular meeting.

Quorum not reached

Noting that, without a quorum, she and Bailey could not take a vote at the special meeting, Bouquet said she had hoped the whole board “would be present and prioritize the active request” made by Holden, and noted her disappointment that board members Hempfling, Magnus and Potter did not reach out to her and Bailey until the day after the meeting was announced to say they were unable to attend.

In a Feb. 14 email from Hempfling to Bouquet, which was shared with the News and which Bouquet summarized during the special meeting, Hempfling stated that she believed it was “discourteous” for Bailey and Bouquet to set the special meeting date and time without checking the availability of the rest of the board’s members beforehand.

“Perhaps you all forgot, but we already knew that [Potter and Magnus] were busy Thursday evenings till at least 7. That’s why we changed the [regular] meeting time to 7 p.m.,” Hempfling writes in the email, noting the board’s shift from holding its monthly Thursday meetings at 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Hempfling also noted her own unavailability for the meeting due to a work conflict.

In another email shared with the News, Potter reminded Holden the day before the meeting that she teaches undergraduate courses on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and that she is unavailable from noon to 7 p.m. on those days.

“On a matter of this kind, I think it is very important that all board members are present when it is discussed,” Potter wrote.

Bouquet said she intends to add the censure resolution to the board’s regular meeting in March.

The Feb. 15 special meeting may be viewed in full on the “Yellow Springs Schools Board Meetings” YouTube channel. The special meeting’s agenda and documents are available online at bit.ly/YSSchoolBoardDocs.

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