Kathleen Vail Image
Kathleen Vail
Former Editor-in-Chief, National School Boards Association

Adopting new school policies: what you need to know

September 21, 2023
0 min read
Adopting new school policies: what you need to know

School boards create a vision for their district and set goals to achieve that vision. Policies are the concrete steps taken to make that vision a reality.

New policies, however, are not created in a vacuum. They must be aligned with the district’s current policies, or they must replace old ones to avoid conflict and confusion. Creating and adopting new policies requires a thorough understanding of current policies and the district’s history of policies that have been altered or rescinded. They also require public feedback and support.

In part five of our five-part series on policy adoption for school boards, we’ll look at new policy adoption – why new policies attract public scrutiny and how boards can ensure that new policies align with the vision and mission of the district.

Understanding when a new policy is needed and maintaining a commitment to transparency with the community will go a long way in successful policy adoption. However, it also requires research, feedback, review and version tracking before the policy comes up for a vote by the school board.

Public attention and feedback

While some policymaking is mundane, many new policies have the potential to touch the lives of everyone in the district. The upheaval in education during the pandemic is a prime example. During this time, many school boards were required to make swift policy changes in response to the emerging public health emergency.

Superintendents, along with other administrators, crafted policies on masking, remote learning, and the conditions for closing and reopening schools for the board to approve. The board had to move quickly, balancing public health concerns with community preferences.

These policies were among the most contentious that many districts have ever dealt with. Other policies that garner the most attention from parents and community members deal with evolving technology and societal issues, such as cell phone use at school, cyber bullying, social media guidelines, dress codes or gender identity. The appropriate role of artificial intelligence in the classroom has also found its way into recent policy discussions and decisions.

When adopting policies, it’s useful to educate the public and school community about the two types that school boards enact. When the public understands the state and federal mandates that school districts must operate by, they get a more comprehensive picture of what school boards can and cannot do. Understanding can engender more support among the district’s community members.

Two types of school policies

State and federal legislation and mandates often require policy creation or updating. For policies related to specific state or federal laws, school boards and districts often rely on the state school boards association, an outside policy provider, or in-house or outside legal counsel to provide the language for a policy that meets the legislation's requirements.

The second type of policy arises from the district. Local district policies cover all elements of school operations. They create the structure for the superintendent and staff to do their work. Local school board policy covers broad areas, including curriculum, finance, staff and teacher recruitment, and student services. These local policies also are typically cleared through legal counsel to ensure compliance with overarching legislation. It is important that these local policies do not contradict legal policy.

Suggestions and recommendations for new local district policy development will come from the superintendent, administrators, and even teachers, parents, students, and community members. Policies can be used to address issues such as teacher shortages, gaps in student academic achievement between racial or ethnic groups, or disproportionate identification of minoritized students for special education.

While the school board and district may have little leeway in adopting the first type of policy, they should still follow transparent practices, such as educating the school community on what the policy will entail and allowing opportunities for public feedback.

Technology supports new policy adoption

Technology can streamline the policy adoption process, reducing the administrative burden on school boards and staff. This allows school boards to focus more on policy content and less on administrative logistics. Technology can help schools adhere to legal requirements for document retention and public access to policies.

When choosing technology to help streamline your policy management, be sure to choose a solution that integrates with your board management software and that can track the entire policy adoption process — from the initial draft to board approval and publishing.

A good digital policy tool should provide a detailed and accurate history of each policy, including documentation of who has reviewed the policy, what changes were made, and when it was adopted. Having a comprehensive record simplifies compliance and auditing processes, and in the case of an ongoing grievance, it can be used to track dates for when a policy was adopted or rescinded.

Version control is a critical aspect of policy adoption. With a process that involves so many stakeholders, it’s important to be able to avoid multiple versions and easily collaborate on one draft version. This should be taken into consideration when choosing policy technology, as a school board should be able to easily collaborate and maintain a single draft version with the ability to track changes.

This transparency ensures that the current version is readily available for public and board review, and the correct version is easily published to the policy manual. This level of detail is invaluable for compliance and accountability.

Tips on adopting new policies

  • Do your research: School staff members or board policy committee members should review existing policies and research information and data on the proposed policy. Research allows for informed decision-making and ensures that the new policy aligns with district educational goals and legal requirements.
  • Get feedback: Public participation and comments are critical aspects of policy adoption. School boards should seek input and feedback from a variety of groups that represent the district, including parents, teachers, students, and community members. This collaborative approach ensures that the policy reflects the values and concerns of the entire school community.
  • Draft the policy: This document should clearly define the policy’s purpose, scope, and implementation plan. Policy wording should be concise, easy to understand, and free of ambiguity.
  • Legal review: Consult with legal counsel to help identify potential legal issues. It’s crucial to ensure that the new policy meets state and federal legal requirements.
  • Facilitate board review: a policy can sometimes go through multiple reading reviews before it is voted on to adopt.
  • Publicize and get more feedback: For adoption of local policy, make the draft available to the public for review and feedback. Transparency is key in the policy adoption process. Create opportunities for public input through board meetings, school-based meetings and forums, online surveys, social media, and other communication channels.
  • Create an implementation plan: New policies need a clear plan for implementation. This includes defining roles and responsibilities, establishing timelines, and providing resources for training and communication if necessary. Include details on how the board and superintendent will evaluate whether the policy is having the desired outcome.
  • Monitor and evaluate: Set a regular review date for the new policy. Data and feedback will help district officials assess whether the policy is achieving its intended goals.
  • Review, revise, and adapt: School boards should be prepared to revisit policies as needed to ensure they remain relevant and effective. Changing circumstances, emerging trends, or new legal requirements may mean updates or even new policies.
  • Keep accurate records: Adopted policies should be published to a single location that is publicly available and kept up to date for easy access by parents, students, staff and the community. The same goes for draft policies, which should have accurate history and version controls so it is clear what is the most up-to-date version and when it was adopted.

Technology can streamline policy adoption and deliver transparency

Policy-making is a complex process that has many moving parts and requirements. School boards and their superintendents can use the support of tools such as Diligent Community to be transparent to the public while ensuring a new policy meets the goals set out by the board. You can ensure you always have the approved, up-to-date version available to the public, students and staff.

Policy Publisher for Diligent Community can assist in effortlessly managing your entire policy lifecycle. From creation to adoption, Policy Publisher helps to streamline the flow of policies through each essential stage of your district’s process with ease and efficiency. The product integrates with Diligent Community’s board and agenda management features to ensure the correct version is attached to the agenda, adopted and published in your online policy handbook.


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