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

All you need to know about school policies (but were afraid to ask)

September 11, 2023
0 min read
All you need to know about school policies

School policies are the structures that form and support the mission, vision, and goals of a school district. Yet, many parents, staff, and community members are unaware of the extensive development processes that occur before a policy is put to a vote.

In part four of our five-part series on policy adoption for school boards, we’ll explore how policy underpins all the district’s business – academic, financial, and social – and why it’s essential that all stakeholders understand how and why policy is made.

We’ll also discuss the importance of making district policy easily accessible to the community. Making policy open and available supports equity, builds trust between the school and the community, and increases school board accountability.

Federal vs. local policies

Policy-making is a major role of the school board and its main tool of governance. However, the impetus to adopt or change policies comes from several different sources.

One source is state and federal legislation that requires policy creation or updating. For policies related to specific state or federal legislation or current law, school boards and districts rely on their 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 requirements of the legislation.

In addition to legislative requirements, policies rise from local school and district needs. School boards themselves are a source of policy creation, especially in tandem with setting their mission and goals for the district. Suggestions and recommendations for policy development or changes frequently come from the superintendent, administrators, and even teachers, parents, students and other community members.

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
  • student services

How policy is made

Local policy is developed in stages, with the superintendent and administrators working on the wording of the specific policy to ensure that it reflects the goals of the policy.

When policies are complex or deal with potentially sensitive issues, in-house or outside legal counsel get involved, as well as the state school board association staff. Some larger districts may have policy committees that work on policy development.

School boards seek public feedback and input on proposed new policies or proposed updates to existing policies. The district then solicits public comments on proposed policies at school board meetings, other public forums, and committee meetings. They also can register feedback through electronic surveys or in online comment sections.

While in development and under consideration, policies go through several versions. Public comments and input are taken into consideration, as well as legal aspects. A new policy may be similar to a current one, and staff will need to make sure there is no duplication or contradiction among the policies.

School boards may deliberate on the proposed policy and may send it back to staff for rewording or additional research before the final vote.

Once the policy is approved, the board’s role turns to oversight, monitoring and evaluating implementation and results. Staff begins implementation planning, which includes the benchmarks and evaluation system the school board will use to see if the policy is working as intended. This system allows the board to adjust or change the policy depending on its results.

The importance of policy transparency

School districts are complex entities, and the policies can be, too. Many policies the board approves are ordinary business, but it is still important that the public can see and understand the policies and know when changes are made. This transparency builds trust with the community. Transparency is an equity tool, since it helps to make sure policies are applied evenly and fairly to all students, teachers, parents, administrators and staff.

Policy transparency helps inform the public on the processes that go into making policy decisions, and the different roles the school board and staff play in development. If a policy is a state or federal requirement, stakeholders will understand that the board did not create them and that the board cannot alter or eliminate them.

Parents and others may need support to understand policy wording, especially complex policies with education and legal terms.

If a dispute arises on policy issues – or if there is a misunderstanding about current policy – transparency also supports resolution because the policy record, with review and updated information, should be available for stakeholders to access easily.

How technology supports access, communication, and transparency

Policy development and approval are complex processes, but transparency will help build trust and understanding in the district community. Digital tools, such as board management platforms, are invaluable to policy transparency. Board management solutions offer:

  • Centralized repositories for policies, organized for quick searches and easy access
  • Timely policy updates and notifications, which ensure stakeholders are informed promptly
  • User-friendly formats with simplified language, which aids in comprehension
  • Automated notifications and reminders to ensure stakeholders are consistently informed
  • Historical tracking of policy changes, which aids in transparency and accountability

Tips for smooth policy adoption and management

Policy adoption and changes are complex and multifaceted. They involve careful deliberation, collaboration, and adherence to legal and ethical standards. Here are some things to consider:

  • Develop in collaboration with policy committees, employees and input from the public. This will make policies better and create support within the community and staff.
  • Set up a regular schedule for policy review and make that schedule publicly available. Regular policy reviews ensure all policies are scrutinized to see if they are meeting current and future needs. Regular reviews demonstrate that governance is not on autopilot.
  • Be aware of potential hidden costs of new polices, such as training needs for teachers and the community. Build these costs into the budget.
  • Use plain language when developing policies, but make sure the essence of the policy remains intact.
  • Communicate regularly about policy through a variety of channels, including emails, text messages, and social media platforms.
  • Ensure that local school board policies include measurements and benchmarks for effectiveness. This way, school boards and their superintendents can use the data collected to make changes and communicate the reasons to staff and the community.

Make the policy process easier and more efficient

Technology tools such as Diligent Community can empower school boards and their staff to streamline policy adoption and management, enhance accessibility, and promote inclusivity and trust. School boards can prioritize transparency and accountability, ensuring policies are in the best interests of students and community.

The benefits of managing policy digitally through Diligent Community's Policy Publisher are that you can always track the current version, see the document history and track who made what changes. You always have the approved up-to-date version available to the public, students and staff.


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