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

Building public trust through school policy transparency

August 28, 2023
0 min read
Building public trust through school policy transparency

Setting school district policy is a key responsibility of school boards; it’s the lever boards use to achieve their vision for student achievement and manage the district’s resources. It also reflects and carries out state and federal education regulations that the district is required to implement. In short, board policy-making represents the intersection of vision and accountability, according to the National School Boards Association’s Key Work of School Boards.

This is part two of a five-part series on policy adoption for school boards. Part one explored the keys to effective policy management for school boards.

District policies affect everyone in the school community: students, teachers, administrators, staff, parents and others. Getting feedback on proposed policy from those who will be impacted is essential.

Transparency in policy development is an important way for school boards to educate the public, especially parents and community members, about how the board operates. That education includes explaining the differences between policies required by state and federal laws, and those created by the board to meet district needs and goals.

School district policies can have a profound impact on students’ lives, as well as parents, families and the community. Transparent policy-making ensures that the public is well informed about the reasoning behind these decisions and the expected outcomes. This increased awareness enables people to understand the context in which policies are formulated and implemented, empowering them to actively participate in the successful execution of the policies.

When the public can give input on proposed policies, they are more likely to support the outcome. When they understand that some policies are required by state or federal law, they will have a better appreciation of the school board’s role and its work.

Transparency during the policy-making process and when policies are enacted is essential for building community trust and support for district policies. Using technology to facilitate transparency makes management, review, and revision of existing policies more efficient for board and district staff.

Why does school district policy transparency matter?

Policy creation and revision are continuous processes for the board and administration. New regulations or mandates handed down during state legislative sessions require new policies to meet those mandates. Usually, a school board can rely on their state associations to create a basic policy for districts. Each board and administration will need to adapt the policy to the district, ensuring that existing policy does not duplicate or contradict it.

During goal-setting sessions, boards will consider new or revised policies to help meet those goals. New policies may be developed in response to a new situation or a request from parents, teachers, or students.

Here are a few examples:

  • Teachers report that student cell phone use is becoming a classroom distraction, so policy can be changed to allow phone use outside the classroom only.
  • Students request a change in the dress code policy that they believe unfairly targets girls.
  • The board wants to boost high school attendance, so they suggest a policy to provide universal breakfast for all high school students.

Transparency builds trust and support

Transparency fosters trust between school boards and the communities they serve. By openly sharing information about the policy-making process, including objectives, discussions, and rationale, school boards demonstrate their commitment to accountability. When community members have access to this information, they can hold the board accountable for its decisions and actions, which promotes a culture of responsibility and integrity.

When school boards get to hear (and consider) the voices of the community they can create policies that are more likely to address diverse needs and reflect a broad range of perspectives. Involving the public in policy creation leads to greater public support for the policies, the district, and the board.

In addition, when school boards invite public input and debate, they can access a wealth of expertise and insights from individuals with diverse backgrounds. Open discussions can help identify potential flaws and opportunities for improvement, ultimately leading to better-crafted policies that align with the community’s values and objectives.

Technology boosts transparency

Without the right tools, it can be difficult to engage the community on policy creation and revision. Policies up for vote can be posted on the district’s website for review, but the nuances and versions might not be captured. Members of the public can use technology to sign up to speak at meetings, with their comments and feedback recorded for the meeting minutes. The comments can be categorized by subject and meeting date.

Often, different versions of policies exist at the same time. Version control can help with confusion and streamline the process for administrators in charge of updating and posting district policies. When questions arise about district or employee policy compliance from community members or others, the ability to show the time period when a particular version of the policy was in place is vital. This can show the changes that the policy underwent, when it was reviewed by the board, and when the alterations were communicated to school employees and the community.

Suggested policies are added to the school board meeting agenda and voted on by the board after input, discussion, and deliberation. When they are adopted, they are added to the official district policy manual and published electronically either on the district’s website or another digital portal. Paper school district policy manuals still exist, but most districts store their manuals electronically and make them available to the public.

Tips for board and district policy transparency

  • Engage stakeholders: Involve students, parents, teachers, and community members in the policy development process. Seek their feedback to ensure policies address the diverse needs of the community.
  • Use online portals: User-friendly online portals allow stakeholders to access policy documents, meeting schedules, agendas, minutes, and other relevant information in one centralized location.
  • Use clear communication: Use plain language when drafting policies to ensure they are easily understandable by all stakeholders. Clearly communicate the purpose and rationale behind each policy.
  • Prioritize accessibility: Use technology to make policies readily available to all stakeholders. Consider hosting policies on user-friendly platforms accessible on multiple devices.
  • Educate the community: Conduct information sessions or workshops in person or by virtual meetings to educate the community about policy changes and updates. Transparent communication can foster support and cooperation.

Collaborative governance process with technology

With technology, policy transparency has become more feasible than ever. School boards can create a more inclusive, accountable, and effective educational environment, enriching the lives of students, parents, staff, and the community.

Technology tools such as Diligent Community can empower school boards to streamline policy 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.

Every school board needs an effective policy process, and technology can make it possible. We at Diligent understand the needs of the modern school board, and Diligent Community Policy Publisher is specially designed to make your board’s policy management and adoption even more streamlined.


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