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Yellow Springs School Board

Request to censure school board member fails

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At a special meeting of the YS school board Tuesday, May 21, a request to censure a member of the board that was originally put forth in February was not approved, as one member abstained from voting and the vote count was 2–2.

The proposed censure of board member Amy Magnus was requested Feb. 10 by Superintendent Terri Holden after she received a complaint from the YS Educational Association, or YSEA, the district’s teacher’s union. The complaint 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 Feb. 8 board meeting expressing concern about the district’s facilities improvement project. The message from Magnus, sent early Feb. 10, via Facebook, read: “Your anger is palpable. It is also misdirected.”

The YSEA later lodged a formal complaint with the school board regarding a “breach in Board of Education policy” in connection with the message. The formal complaint cited board policies 0123 — Code of Ethics/Code of Conduct and 3112 — Board Staff Communication, which dictate that official communications from board members to staff should “generally be communicated through the Superintendent” and that “an individual Board member has no authority to speak or act for the Board.”

Shelly Blackman listing, 1415 Pagosa Way, Yellow Springs, OH

The formal complaint also made the case that the message from Magnus to the teacher violated the board’s policy 3362 — Anti-Harassment, stating that the late hour at which the message was sent caused “emotional distress” for the teacher who received it and “[interrupted] their sleep for the night.”

Following the complaint, an independent investigator was hired by the district for a fee of $3,614 to look into whether or not Magnus had violated board policies. The investigation was based on relevant documents provided by the district, video of the Feb. 8 school board meeting and interviews conducted in April with Magnus, YSEA President Naomi Hyatt and six unnamed witnesses. The results of that investigation were made public at the May 21 meeting.

The report of the results of the investigation, which was conducted by consultant investigator Janice Collette of Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, notes that, although Magnus “did not intend” to violate board policies with the Feb. 10 message to the teacher, Magnus “confused [their] role as a Board Member with that of a friend/colleague” in communicating with the teacher about district-related matters.

Collette concluded that Magnus violated board policies 0123 and 3112, adding that board policy does not allow board members to “individually admonish Public Participation participants who address matters of concern during Board meetings” and that Magnus “should have contacted Superintendent Holden or addressed the issue at a Facilities Committee meeting [on which the teacher serves]” to appropriately communicate with the teacher.

However, Collette did not find that Magnus had violated board policy 3362 — Anti-Harassment, writing that the policy “is very specific in the definition of discriminatory harassment” with regard to race, ethnicity, sex, gender, disability, age and religion. The report states that the YSEA complaint did not indicate that Magnus’ “alleged conduct was motivated by any individual’s membership in a Protected Class” and did not constitute a pattern of behavior with regard to the teacher, and that it therefore “[did] not rise to the level of harassment/discrimination and/or bullying as defined in the policy.”

Magnus said at the May 21 meeting that they found the investigation “very helpful,” noting that the results provided “a little more context” about the situation. Magnus reiterated that they had indeed reached out to the teacher in an informal capacity — not as a member of the school board, but as a friend.

“I understand that I was rude. I understand that I shouldn’t have suggested that the faculty member redirect their emotional energy someplace else — that was an error that I made,” Magnus said. “I stand ready to take further direction in terms of additional training that will help.”

As the board moved into considering whether or not it would censure Magnus, board member Dorothée Bouquet said the YSEA hoped the board would commit to “not communicat[ing] in this manner with staff” in the future.

“What I hear from board member Magnus is that there was a disconnect between intention and impact,” Bouquet said. “And I think that we can do both — we can acknowledge that [Magnus’] intentions were not what came across, but also that the impact was real on the school employee.”

Bouquet moved to vote on the censure, stating that she hoped the censure would be a “vehicle” to acknowledge the results of the investigation. Board member Amy Bailey, who seconded the motion, agreed, and added that a censure “means acknowledging that something was wrong and we’re going to do better — that’s all it is.”

“It’s simply having accountability for your actions,” Bailey said.

In contrast, Board President Judith Hempfling characterized a censure not only as an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, but “an expression of harsh criticism.”

“A censure is not a slap on the wrist,” Hempfling said. “I believe many people in the village see this as an unhealthy exercise in shaming for two unintentional policy violations.”

Board member Rebecca Potter later concurred, saying that Magnus’ behavior “does not meet the standard” for censure as its results were unintentional, as stated in the investigation report.

“For this reason, I believe that a censure is a last, not a first, resort, and more for egregious violations that are clearly showing malfeasance or gross neglect,” Potter said.

YSEA President Naomi Hyatt, who was present for the meeting, addressed the board, stating that teachers are held to a strict standard of not communicating directly with board members, and that violations are met with letters of discipline added to personnel files. A censure, she said, seemed to be the only equivalent for a board member violating a similar policy.

“The only thing that exists for a board to hold accountability is a censure,” Hyatt said.

Ultimately, Bailey and Bouquet voted for the censure and Hempfling and Potter voted against, with Magnus abstaining, and the motion did not pass.

The Board of Education held its regular meeting the following night, Wednesday, May 22, during which the board unanimously approved a resolution of necessity to place a 10-year substitute levy before voters in November. A more detailed report on that decision, as well as other business from the regular meeting, will appear in next week’s issue of the News.


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