Developing School Board Policy: What Is Best Practice?

Ollie Thomlinson-Wells

School board policy is a front-of-mind topic for any public school board. As boards move forward from the turbulence of the COVID-19 pandemic, bolstering their approach to policy is likely to be high on the agenda.

With effective local school board policy meaning the difference between success and failure in your school’s management, creating and managing policy is a core responsibility for the board.

What should your considerations be if policy-making and governance are on your to-do list?

 

School Board Policy Development

How are schools’ policies developed? If you are looking at how to change school board policy or implement an entirely new policy, there are some standard steps to follow.

The policy development process often starts not with the board but with your administrative team. Drafting policy recommendations can be delegated, with the board stepping in to assess the recommendations and decide how to craft the policies. Later, input from others will be vital to refining your draft policy and ensuring it meets stakeholders’ needs.

There are five steps all boards and their administrators should take when developing policies.

 

School Board Policy Checklist

  1. Build proposals for policies to be developed, implemented and/or updated. As mentioned above, this can be achieved outside the board, but the board should review and have the final say on the adopted proposals.
  2. Ensure someone, or a team of people, are accountable for policy management and coordination. This may be one of your administrative staff or, in many cases, the superintendent.
  3. Produce a draft policy for consultation — this may be done by your district policy contact (the accountable person above).
  4. Ask for input on your draft policy from relevant stakeholders. The introduction or amendment of some policies will be straightforward, while others will be more complex — requiring feedback from the local community, students, parents and others.
  5. Assess the policy and decide whether to adopt it. Once adopted, any new or updated policies should be communicated with stakeholders, particularly those involved in any consultation and those directly impacted by the change.

 

Examples of School Board Policies

Academic: These are policies that set out your goals and expectations around academic achievements and standards of behavior in class and towards teaching staff.

Anti-Bullying: When crafting your anti-bullying policy, it’s essential to include a definition of bullying; the effects bullying has; the scope of your policy, including any protected groups, and the reporting and investigation process.

Anti-fraud: Your anti-fraud policy should define fraud, set out the steps you will take to investigate it and detail the consequences for anyone breaking the policy. It should also heighten awareness of potential fraud to aid detection.

Attendance: The attendance policy is essential among your school board policies, setting out expectations around attendance levels and consequences for students failing to meet them. It should cover not just absence but tardiness too.

Cell phones: Although cell phones can be a distraction, they can also be an educational aid and, in an emergency, can be essential. Your cell phone policy should reflect all of these factors.

Clubs and organizations: Your policy on clubs and organizations should define a school-run (versus a student or externally-organized) club and outline the application process and how the club or organization is run.

Discipline: Your student discipline policy must detail the issues students will be disciplined for and the consequences of non-compliance. Students must be aware of the impact of making poor choices if their policy is to be clear and equitable.

Diversity: A diversity policy, possibly centered around a diversity committee, sets out your school’s stance on diversity and inclusion.

Dress code: Does your school require a uniform? If so, details should be included in your dress code policy. If not, the dress code policy should detail expectations around appropriate and inappropriate school wear. The policy should be regularly updated.

Drop out prevention/alternative education: Here, your policies should detail how your school works to prevent drops outs and set out the alternative provision available for students who do end up dropping out of mainstream education.

Evacuation drills: Your policy here should set out the possible reasons for evacuation (fire, earthquake etc,) and the steps staff and students should take in the event of an evacuation.

Freedom: your freedom policy should cover issues including freedom of speech, what students can and cannot wear, and students’ rights to express political views.

Parent/family engagement: Your policy on family engagement or involvement should set expectations around the interaction between parents and school, including family conferences, and outline how both school staff and parents/family should approach interaction.

Transportation: What can students expect in terms of transportation to school? Who is eligible for transportation?

 

You can refer to existing school board policies as templates when drafting your own. For instance, you could refer to policies drafted by The School Board of Broward County, FL, for inspiration. Or do run a quick Google search to identify specific policies drafted by other counties or states. It is worth comparing several like-for-like policies.

 

Local School Board Policy

What is local school board policy? Setting policy is one of the key responsibilities of the school board. The board takes, adopts and localizes district policy on all elements of school operations, which creates the framework within which the school superintendent carries out their duties.

Local school board policy covers areas including:

  • Educational programs
  • School finance
  • Recruitment of staff
  • Administration of student services

With the implementation of policies delegated to the superintendent and district administrative staff, the board’s role, having set school board policy, is to oversee, monitor and evaluate the implementation of the policies set.

 

Frequently Confused Terms

School Board Policy vs. Procedure

The distinction between school board policies and procedures can be unclear, but the two are different. Policies are legally binding and enforceable, based on the school’s adoption and adaption of broader (e.g., federal or state) policies and regulations. Procedures are how these policies are carried out and enforced; they are not adopted or governed by the school board.

School Board Policy vs. Regulation

Similarly, there can be ambiguity and misunderstanding around the difference between school board policy and regulation. While policies describe what should be done, they are not regulation. However, regulations may require policies to be executed in a particular way, to specific deadlines (for example, in terms of reporting) or by a certain responsible individual.

 

Apply Best Practice in School Board Policy Development and Governance

If you are involved in setting or overseeing school board policy, this article has hopefully provided some pointers on best practice.

As with all policy and process, good governance is the key to ongoing compliance once the policies have been established. Subscribe to the latest thinking, news and developments to help organizations succeed in the journey towards modern governance best practices. Find out more and subscribe to our newsletter.

 
 

 

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