Education & Government
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Diana Baker Freeman
Sr. Manager, Modern Governance Advocacy & Iniatives

School district policies: definition, best practices and examples

July 21, 2021
0 min read
school board policy

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

A school’s policies keep everyone on the same page while strengthening relationships between the trustees and staff members. With the right policies in place, everyone moves in the same direction without the school board needing to micromanage the staff.

The right policies also help to strengthen relationships between the board, superintendent, and other school administrators as policies clearly outline everyone’s expectations.

The issue of school policy has many facets, so we’re breaking down the following topics for you:

  • What are school district policies?
  • Local school board policy
  • The difference between ‘policy’ and ‘regulation’ for school districts
  • What are administrative regulations?
  • School board policy vs. regulation
  • Developing a school’s policy: 5 steps
  • Examples of policies for schools

What are school district policies?

School district policies are statements about the school board’s expectations which are formally approved by the board. Essentially, board policy is a form of communication in addition to other written and electronic communications.

The purpose of the board policies is to serve as a guide for the superintendent and other school administrators on how to operate the school. A school’s policies generally give broad authorizations for programs and services while allowing staff members to determine the best methods for implementing them.

When the school board and administrators fulfil their responsibilities and both parties are in sync, staff and students are safe, administrators are happy in their jobs, and students have an opportunity for an excellent education.

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 school district 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.

The difference between ‘policy’ and ‘regulation’ for school districts

When considering the difference between policy vs. regulation, a school’s policies as created by the board serves as a guide for administrators while regulations are rules based on the school’s policies that are created by the administrators.

What are administrative regulations?

You might think about an administrative regulations definition similarly to the definition of laws. Much like laws, regulations tell people how to act and not to act. School regulations should be practical, flexible, and carefully thought out.

How can regulations serve the administrators, teachers, and students?

Regulations can:

  • Outline the process for enforcing school policies step-by-step
  • Identify a management process
  • State how administrators enforce policies
  • Provide instructions
  • Provide reference tools for administrators
  • Expand upon a policy

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.

Administrators have the authority to carry out the policies as they see fit. While boards don’t have to approve regulations, they have a responsibility to review regulations to ensure they’re in compliance with the law and in keeping with board policies as part of their governance duties.

What is a similarity between regulation vs. policy? Policies and regulations can be amended as necessary for the proper administration of the school and they should both be flexible.

Developing school board policies: 5 steps

How are schools’ policies developed? If you are looking at how to change school district policies 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 District 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 school district policies 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.

Apply Best Practice in School District Policies 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 school district policies have been established. Effective school board members have effective board meetings, and the right technology such as a board management solution stores school policies accessibly.

To that end, 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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