Students on School Boards Frequently Asked Questions

Students on School Boards Toolbox by SoundOut, including research, examples, tips and more from SoundOut

Frequently Asked Questions about Students on School Boards

 

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Following are some of the frequently asked questions SoundOut has collected after more than a decade of training school boards, students, and others about students on school boards. Where there are links, there is more information.

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Can students join my district school boards and/or the state board of education?
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It depends on which state you live in.

In the United States, are students guaranteed representation on the school board?
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No.

Which students can serve on school boards?
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It depends on what rules are set by state laws and/or local school boards. Most school boards consist of adults who live in the local community and are selected by the community (or, if it’s an appointed school board, selected by either the mayor or county elected officials). They are parents, grandparents, local business owners, retirees and other ordinary people. They are non-partisan. Students who serve on school boards should be the same: Ordinary, everyday students. They should be struggling students, average achieving students or high achieving; fully disengaged or completely busy; students of color or white students; girls and boys and students who identify otherwise. However, they can be whichever students are chosen by local or state rules and regulations.

What is the role of the school board and students on school boards?
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The school board should represent the concerns of local people to school administrators, and to represent the needs of the students and school district to the the community. The school board does not operate the district on a day-to-day basis; that is the job of the superintendent, who is the district’s chief executive. Rather, the school board sets the policies, goals and objectives for the district – and it holds the superintendent responsible for implementing the policies and achieving the goals. Students on school boards should participate fully in ALL of these activities. Discover different roles for students on school boards.

I have a problem with my school. When is the student school board member the right person to share it with?
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SoundOut suggests students work with the leadership structure in schools to address their concerns, which can help promote Meaningful Student Involvement. For instance, if a student has a problem with a teacher, the student should first address it with the teacher and, if the issue is not resolved, the student should turn to the principal or headmaster. If that fails, they can bring their concerns to the student school board member, and then the district superintendent. In districts with student representatives, students addressing the school board should be the last resort. Often, students can get answers to their questions simply by calling the right person in the school district.

Can students speak at school board meetings?
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Generally, state laws require a public comment period at school board meetings, no matter whether they are students or adults. Boards are allowed to establish reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of public comment. For instance, school boards typically set guidelines on the length of an individual’s comment (e.g., a certain amount of time per person), so no one person dominates the meeting. There is no required format for public comment; some boards have one public-comment period in the middle of the meeting, some have two public-comment sessions during a board meeting.

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Some districts have student representatives attend school board meetings but do not allow them to talk unless they are invited to. Few states have laws mandating students be able to fully participate as full members of school boards. Several states legally prohibit students from joining school boards.

What is proper protocol for public participation?
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Comments from the public generally go through the chair at the board meeting who is usually the board president. Boards use the public comment period as an opportunity to listen to citizen concerns, but not to debate issues or enter into a question-and-answer session or a “cross examination” between the public and individual members. Be aware that not all issues brought before a board meeting will be resolved that evening; boards may respond to public comment by seeking additional information or by delegating the authority to investigate the issue to the superintendent or his/her designee. While public education can be an emotional issue, and understandably so, the board will strive to maintain a certain level of decorum at the meeting. Many meetings are recorded or televised, and students often attend or participate in the meetings. As such, citizens are expected to maintain tone of courtesy and civility.

How does the board set its rules at the meeting?
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A local school board’s parliamentary procedure is a matter of local policy. Most boards follow Roberts Rules of Order, which describes how meetings are run, how motions and votes are taken and other procedures. The school board’s secretary can inform citizens on rules of order and other issues of board policy.

The board goes into a closed-door meeting each meeting. Why can’t the public and students witness what occurs there?
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Often, state laws dictate areas that are to be discussed in “executive” or closed-door sessions. Among the most common include privacy issues (including employee privacy as well as matters dealing with individual students and student discipline); anticipated litigation and issues involving attorney-client privilege; negotiations with labor unions and negotiating strategy; matters involving the purchase of property; and any issues dealing with security that could undermine safety if made public. Sometimes, citizens will want to know why a school board took a vote regarding a particular staff member (e.g., not re-hiring a teacher or principal). However, school board members are not allowed to publicly discuss evaluative aspects of the staff member’s employment, unless the employee authorizes it.

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Sometimes student school board members are limited as to which topics they are allowed to hear during meetings. They can include any of the above, as well as anything else determined by the school board.

What is a board agenda?

A board agenda is a plan for the meeting set to happen. Generally, school boards are not required by law to post an agenda for each meeting. However, most do have an agenda. If they do, the agenda must reasonably reflect the matters to be discussed. However, the board is not precluded from addressing an issue that arises just because it was not on the agenda. In some states and provinces, school boards must publicly post an annual notice describing the date and location of meetings. However, they aren’t obligated to share their agendas.

My school board seems to rapidly work through the agenda, without much debate. Why is that?

There are different ways to conduct school board meetings that are very public or very private. School boards can meet openly for the majority of their matters. Sometimes, school boards have a “workshop” or “caucus” meeting where they discuss issues in greater detail, but don’t vote on the issues. Sometimes, they will hear a wide range of public opinions in general sessions and then go into workshop sessions. Boards may use a committee structure where certain members of the board, often working with the superintendent or key administrators, study a specific issue and make recommendations to the full board for a vote. By the time the board has a regular “agenda” or “business” meeting where it votes on issues, the agenda items have usually been vetted or studied already and members are simply prepared to vote up or down an issue.

What is the difference between school board policy and state or provincial regulations and statutes?

School board policies, regulations and statutes all govern the ways school boards behave. Statutes are the laws that are enacted by state or, in Canada, provincial legislators. Usually the law will contain broad language on an issue, and it will authorize the appropriate agency (which could be the state Department of Education, or DOE; or Superintendent of Public Instruction, or SPI; or other state education agencies; and in Canada, Ministries of Education) to write regulations, also called “administrative code,” that detail how the law will be carried out.

Local public schools must adhere to state or provincial statutes and regulations. There are many aspects of school management that the state does not manage. Those are covered by the local school board’s policies, which are the local school board’s rules and guidelines that detail how the district will operate. Policies address many issues ranging from student discipline and dress codes to whether the district will rent the gym to community groups after school hours. The province or state generally does not delve into the oversight of local board policies unless there is a specific law requiring boards to have policies on an issue (such as bullying), or if the local board’s policies are found to be arbitrary or capricious, or have otherwise run afoul of state laws and regulations.

What role does the state/province school board association or the state department of education or state superintendent play?

School board associations are service organizations that may provide training, assistance and advocacy for local school boards. However, they are generally not regulatory agencies and do not have authority over local school districts. State departments of education and provincial ministries of education are the agencies that regulate public schools.

If a person has an issue that cannot be resolved by working up the chain of command locally, he or she can bring it to the attention of their provincial or state education agency. These agencies often serve as an effective liaison between local residents and the state or provincial education agency. There may be School Ethics Commissions or education ombudsmen who hear cases involving conflicts of interest and possible ethics violations. The state education leader or minister of education also hears many cases dealing with education issues.

Adapted from the New Jersey School Boards Association – Parent Connections.

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School Boards of the Future by Adam Fletcher

Nutrition and Meaningful Student Involvement

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

In modern schools... Success happens through Meaningful Student Involvement. Learn more at SoundOut.org.Nutrition is a bedrock of academic achievement, behavior and school climate. Whether apparent in school cafeteria selections, vending machines and other privately sold foods, or candy shared throughout the school day. Meaningful Student Involvement can be a key to transforming school nutrition.

What It Is

School nutrition is meant to provide proper nutrition for students to support the growth, development and learning of students in schools. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, schools have a huge impact of student health. Because of their role in society and exposure in schools, students can learn healthy eating and receive healthy foods from schools like nowhere else. Nutritious, appealing foods and drinks should be provided in school cafeterias, vending machines, snack bars, school stores, and other places in schools that offer food and beverages to students. Nutrition education should also be part of a comprehensive school health education curriculum, and nutrition staff should be part of every school, district and state coordinated school health approach.

Opportunities for Meaningful Student Involvement

As students become more accustomed to personalized learning, teaching and leadership throughout schools, they want more relevant food choices to support their experiences in schools. School nutrition has to be as engaging as classroom education. While society is embracing greater health in nutrition, schools are responsible for doing the same. Meaningful Student Involvement can facilitate this. There are examples of this work happening around the world.

  • BOSTON: The Boston Student Advisory Council met regularly and advised a group over the course of a year with representatives from Boston Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services to discuss issues related to school food and vending machines.  Students advised a group of doctors working with the Nutrition Group on how to create healthy snacks that students will actually eat.
  • PENNSYLVANIA: Student involvement in wellness goals was promoted by having them work with local education agencies to develop Local Wellness Policies. Participating in the research, evaluation and re-design of school nutrition policies, student engagement was shown to increase, as did student acceptance in an array of health-related areas. Research found this approach may have promise in the area of obesity prevention. (Jomaa, L. H., E. McDonnell, et al. (2010) “Student Involvement in Wellness Policies: A Study of Pennsylvania Local Education Agencies,” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 42(6): 372-379)

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Place-Based Learning and Meaningful Student Involvement

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

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Place-based learning is an approach to learning, teaching and leadership in schools that engages the unique background, resources and outcomes of identifiable communities related to their own communities, cultures and natural environments. Meaningful Student Involvement can empower place-based learning to become highly relevant and significant in the lives of today’s learners.

What It Is

Rather than being a separate curriculum or program, place-based learning is similar to Meaningful Student involvement because it is a framework for teaching, learning and leadership that can be infused throughout education, including classrooms, principals’ offices and school boardrooms. Through Student/Adult Partnerships, students work with teachers, community members and other adults to learn from their community’s culture, history, natural environment, local economy, and issues and opportunities. Many years of research and practice show that even very young students can learn about their community. Academic work is tied to place is ways that matter both to students and to others in the community. This is authentic learning, and is often more rigorous than other approaches.

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Rural Schools and Meaningful Student Involvement

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

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Rural schools face a growing number of challenges and opportunities unique to their circumstances. In many rural communities, schools are the center of activity and identity. Meaningful Student Involvement can provide unique opportunities to facilitate powerful transformation throughout those systems, and to sustain those communities.

What They Are

Rural schools are anywhere outside of cities and suburban areas. They often exist either as large consolidated schools or tiny one-room schoolhouses. Most are historical, but some are new. Issues in rural schools can include fewer resources for students and teachers; lack of access to professional development and student training opportunities; community isolation; students having the same teachers for multiple subjects and grade levels; and fewer extracurricular activities.

In modern schools... Belonging happens through Meaningful Student Involvement. Learn more at SoundOut.org.Where Meaningful Student Involvement Fits

By facilitating active, engaged and educational roles for students through Meaningful Student Involvement, the approach can be essential for retaining learners, graduating students and decreasing the brain drain in rural schools. Providing educators and administrators powerful, research-driven frameworks, Meaningful Student Involvement breaks traditional hierarchal cultures in schools by appropriately positioning students in relationship to adults. In turn, students can become enthusiastic, engaged learners, teachers and leaders in rural schools.

Through this authentic systems approach, schools can embrace local community culture outside of schools by creating new roles for students that empower them with substantial skills and knowledge. This happens by embracing the following characteristics:

  • Just as many rural communities form holistic bonds that support entire families, communities and cultures, schools should take schoolwide approaches to Meaningful Student Involvement.
  • Integrated as complete members of their homes and family businesses, rural students need to experience high levels of student authority that allow them to experience full Student/Adult Partnerships.
  • Interrelated strategies to infusing Meaningful Student Involvement echo the relationships rural students experience throughout their communities.
  • Identifying and maintaining sustainable structures of support show students their contributions are relevant beyond them.
  • Personal commitment needs to be instilled, fostered and supported throughout the education system in order to ensure Meaningful Student Involvement affects everyone involved and not just students.
  • When students experience strong learning connections between their involvement and their classrooms, it ensures a long term sense of belonging and variety.

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Literacy and Meaningful Student Involvement

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

classroom bannerLiteracy is at the heart of Meaningful Student Involvement. Literacy is more than simply reading; its understanding, interpreting acting on, assessing, and critiquing what’s been read, learned, reported, researched or promoted.

What It Is

For one hundred years, educational thought leaders from John Dewey to Paulo Freire encouraged teachers to consider the depth and breadth of literacy. Today, its widely accepted that everyone in society is affected by their levels of literacy in different areas, including their literacy in school knowledge; consumer consumption; social creation; family implementation; and cultural critical thinking. In schools, students experience varying amounts of true literacy education. Its been shown the amount of comprehensive literacy education are affected by the:

  • Political backgrounds of educators and politicians who make decisions for students
  • Socio-economic backgrounds of learners
  • Cultural influence over students’ families
  • and other factors.

According to UNESCO, “for individuals, families, and societies alike, it [literacy] is an instrument of empowerment to improve one’s health, one’s income, and one’s relationship with the world.”

2013LearningthruMSIHow It Works

Literacy affects every part of every person’s life from the moment they awake to the time they fall asleep, and even the hours in between. Their level of literacy is a humongous determining factor for how comfortable, successful and rewarding those hours are. From the Internet to text messaging; from advertising to packaging; from cultural traits to personal behaviors; from law enforcement to legal jurisdiction, all communication is driven by literacy. Additionally, all politics is driven by literacy and the ability to critically confront power and authority throughout life.

In highly literate communities, there is a constant, healthy and substantial exchange of ideas and debate. Illiteracy can breed exclusion and violence.

Where Meaningful Student Involvement Fits

With its learning cycle and outcomes firmly based in research and practice, Meaningful Student Involvement can provide useful frameworks for teachers to engage student voice beyond simplistic and tokenistic measures. It can help administrators facilitate further inclusion for students throughout the education system. Ultimately, it can reframe discourse around learning, teaching and leadership throughout education.

Rather than being a passive model for educators to simply implement in schools, Meaningful Student Involvement insists on literacy by positioning Student/Adult Partners in critical relationships with each other, with the frameworks, and with each other. The outcomes include highly personalized, high-ownership environments where students and adults co-facilitate each others’ personal growth. Educational literacy is a unique outcome of SoundOut’s frameworks; every school should include this as a goal of every students’ formal educational experience.

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