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Apr
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2024
Yellow Springs School Board

Present at the March 14 YS school board meeting were, from left, board members Amy Bailey, Amy Magnus, Judith Hempfling, Rebecca Potter and Dorothée Bouquet, and Superintendent Terri Holden. (Video still)

School board to hire contractor to investigate alleged policy violations

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The YS school board returned to discussion of the censure of a board member at its most recent regular meeting Thursday, March 14.

Though a resolution to authorize the proposed censure was on the agenda for the evening, it was not voted on. However, the board did approve the hiring of an independent contractor to investigate the alleged violations of school board policy that led to the proposal, following a vote of 3–2 from the board’s members.

The proposed censure was prompted Saturday, Feb. 10, when Superintendent Terri Holden emailed board President Judith Hempfling and requested that board member Magnus be “officially reprimanded” at the March 14 regular meeting.

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The censure request was made in reference to a message Magnus sent to a district teacher. The message seemed to be in response to comments the teacher made at a Thursday, Feb. 8 board meeting expressing concern about the district’s facilities improvement project. The message from Magnus, sent early Saturday, Feb. 10, read: “Your anger is palpable. It is also misdirected.” (Note: Previous News reporting on the proposed censure misquoted the final word in the message as “misplaced.”)

Holden wrote that Magnus’ direct communication with the teacher constituted a “clear violation of board policy,” referencing section 0148.1 of the school board’s policy manual, 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.”

On Monday, Feb. 12, board members Amy Bailey and Dorothée Bouquet called a special meeting scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 15 in order to discuss and vote on a resolution to authorize the censure. The meeting ended about eight minutes after it began, however, due to a lack of quorum, as only Bailey and Bouquet were present. Hempfling, Magnus and board Vice President Rebecca Potter alerted the superintendent and board Wednesday, Feb. 14, that they were unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.

YSEA formal complaint

On Monday, March 11, ahead of the regular board meeting Thursday, the YS Educational Association, or YSEA — the union that represents district educators — filed a formal complaint regarding a “breach in Board of Education policy” in connection with the Feb. 10 message from Magnus.

The complaint cites the same section of the school board’s policies Holden outlined in the initial censure request, stating that district staff have been disciplined in the past for communicating directly with board members, and that the same standard should be applied to board members communicating directly with staff.

Also referenced was section 3362 of the board’s policies, which pertains to “anti-harassment,” defining harassment, in part, as communication “directed against a student or school employee that … places [them] in reasonable fear of harm to his/her person or damage to his/her property.”

The YSEA makes the case in its complaint that the teacher Magnus messaged was “deeply concerned” that the communication was not in compliance with policy, and that the message, which was sent at 12:28 a.m., had awakened the teacher, “causing emotional distress and interrupting their sleep for the night.”

Section 0123 of the board’s bylaws, pertaining to its codes of conduct and ethics, is also cited and states that school board members must “recognize that an individual Board member has no authority to speak or act for the Board.” The complaint argued that the teacher “appropriately spoke to the entire board” at the February meeting and was “negatively responded to by a single member.”

The complaint reads, in part: “It is imperative to ensure that all members of the YSEA feel empowered to come forward with any formal complaints against the Board of Education without fear of repercussions. We recognize that speaking out against perceived breaches of policy or inappropriate conduct can be daunting, particularly when there is a history of disciplinary action for similar actions.”

Independent investigator approved

In light of the formal complaint from the YSEA, Hempfling said at the March 14 meeting that the district’s legal counsel firm, Bricker & Graydon, recommended the board hire an independent contractor to investigate the requested censure.

Potter responded that she was “very much in favor” of moving forward with hiring an independent investigator, noting that an investigation could provide an “outside neutral position that will certainly help this process and protect everybody involved in it.”

Magnus agreed, stating that there were “serious charges” on the table with regard to harassment of and retaliation against a member of school staff.

“I feel like we’re emotionally involved in these charges, so I think it’s appropriate for someone who’s not emotionally involved in this to give us an independent assessment,” Magnus said.

In addition, Magnus said they had only learned that they had woken the teacher with their Feb. 10 message when the YSEA issued its formal complaint, saying that they apologized to the teacher upon reading the complaint.

“I also recognize that I was rude in challenging where [the teacher was] directing their energy, so I apologize for that, and I hope that helps take the temperature down,” Magnus said.

With Magnus’ apology in mind, and citing the cost that would be involved, Bouquet said she did not support the hiring of an independent investigator.

“I want to believe that we, the board, can hold ourselves to standards of integrity, without having to recourse to someone else to tell us how to behave,” Bouquet said. She added that she appreciated Magnus’ apology, and believed the board could have defused the situation “a long time ago in many, many ways, and at every turn, we just made the wrong decision.”

Bouquet went on to say she believed the board had enough information already to make a decision on the censure without the aid of an outside investigator, and recommended that the board proceed with discussion of the censure and “recommit as a board to hold ourselves to the best standards.”

Bailey agreed, reiterating that an investigation would come at an additional cost, saying: “Our legal fees are probably through the roof, honestly.”

Hempfling ended the discussion in support of hiring an investigator, saying the policy violations brought forth against Magnus “cannot stand without an investigation.”

The hiring of an independent investigator was approved, with Hempfling, Magnus and Potter voting in favor, and Bailey and Bouquet against.

Public discussion followed the vote, with community members expressing both support for and opposition to the independent investigation, with some adding that public comments on the agenda item should have been heard before a vote was made.

Because the board approved an independent investigation, Potter moved to table further discussion of the censure by the board, which was approved 4–1, with Bailey voting against.

Later, Potter moved to remove video of the Feb. 15 special meeting from YouTube. Her reasoning for the video’s removal was that discussion held during the meeting constituted a violation of board policy, in which Bailey and Bouquet “appropriated a platform available only to them” on behalf of the board.

In particular, Potter said comments made by Bouquet during that meeting about the reason the meeting was called and the absence of the other three school board members were in violation of board bylaw 0162 on quorum, which states that “no business shall be conducted in the absence of a quorum” of at least three board members. The motion was approved 4–1, with Bailey voting against.

The News will report on additional items from the board’s March 14 meeting in next week’s issue.

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One Response to “School board to hire contractor to investigate alleged policy violations”

  1. Georgia Lindsey says:

    Why do they need to hire someone? It appears that Magnus clearly violated policy.

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