School boards and their meetings are generating a great degree of new interest across the country. Learning how to engage and follow up with your school board members can help to effectively document your concerns, get answers, and elevate the community’s interests.
There are more than 90,000 school board members nationwide, making school boards the largest body of elected officials in the country. They have the greatest influence over the direction of education in your community and for your child.
What happens in the boardroom directly impacts what is occurring in the classroom. The best way you can become informed and involved is by doing three things: 1) reading agendas, 2) watching meetings, then 3) writing effectively to your school board members.
What’s on the Agenda?
School boards post agendas for upcoming meetings online. You should read these regularly to see what the school board’s priorities are and how it spends its time.
If you are just beginning to follow your school board, go to their website and pull prior public agendas to peruse the topics they have covered during meetings. In assessing the agendas, look for time spent on ‘woke’ issues. For example:
- Have they worked to direct the superintendent, staff, and consultants to implement “diversity, equity, and inclusion” in the school district?
- Have they spent meetings discussing replacing, renaming, or adding holidays?
- Have they spent their time and budget to rename school buildings?
Often, the work of a school board is done in smaller subsets of the board or committees during meetings that are held with staff members. Therefore, it is important to look for agendas which cover committee meetings of the board in addition to their regular meetings.
These committee meetings are not typically broadcast or videotaped, but notice of them should be publicized in advance in accordance with local or state open meetings law. Minutes from these meetings may also be available on your school board’s website.
As school boards met virtually during the pandemic, off-the-cuff discussions which may have previously happened in off-camera, smaller meetings occurred in the public domain – with consequences like this one, which resulted in the resignation of the entire school board.
As the nation returns to ‘normal’ and fewer school board meetings are conducted online, watching school board proceedings has renewed importance.
The Importance of Showing Up
The best way to observe school board meetings is in person. While the meetings are often broadcast live or taped and posted later online, there is no substitute for being in the room as a meeting unfolds.
Being present allows parents to observe school board members from perspectives which are not apparent from video. Interactions with the superintendent, communication with district staff, and treatment of those in attendance by school board members have more clarity when observed in person.
As you watch meetings, take notes. Documenting questions in real time will help you recall concerns and identify issues which need clarifying – for example, whether your board is eliminating differentiated math, implementing sexualized content and gender ideology, or considering curriculum changes driven on “equity”.
Attending doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit: Invite friends and fellow parents to attend meetings with you. Uniting together will build a cadre of school board watchers.
Write to Your School Board Member
After reviewing the work of the school board, it’s natural to be tempted to unload your frustration and anger on a school board member. However satisfying that may be, the real goal should be to get a response from them in writing about their views.
Here are some tips on how to communicate effectively:
- Direct messages to your own school board member. School board members are elected to either represent a specific geographic area or as an ‘at-large’ member for a position that represents a wider population. If you live in an area that is directly represented by a school board member, it is best to write to that board member. There is an expectation of accountability to constituents who can vote for a school board member just like other elected officials. If any at-large member represents you, write to them as well –– but do it separately to seek an answer from each one.
- Ask direct, straightforward questions. Don’t use your letter to pontificate. Instead, use it to find information and to elicit policy positions of the board member on a specific issue or controversy. One parent in Washington state simply asked a teacher whether a particular book was read to first grade children and ended up discovering the school board president owns an “all-ages” sex shop.
- Keep it short. It is rare that board members have any administrative support, so they are answering their own messages. It is better to engage more often and write shorter emails or letters than to put all your questions and concerns into a long missive.
- Be specific. The more specific the question, the less a school board member will be able to reply with an evasive word-salad response. Ask questions like whether and how “cultural competency” and “systemic racism” are addressed in the professional development for teachers and staff. Or use some of the questions we’ve developed. Check them out here.
- Request data. If you want detailed information from your school board member about the budget, consultants they have hired, curriculum that is taught, or a similar response that involves data, tell them you are asking for their response under a freedom of information act (FOIA) request. You can find our FOIA guide here.
You have submitted your letter or email to your school board member, so now what?
If you have followed the above guidelines – directing a message to your own board member, asking direct questions, keeping it short, being specific, and requesting data – it is reasonable to expect a written response from your board member.
If you have not received a response or acknowledgement within a reasonable period – generally one business week – resend your original message and let them know you expect a written response.
If the response you receive is ‘woke’, evasive, or otherwise unacceptable, it is time for your next step: a call for your school board member to change their view, stop a policy, or reverse course. Express your call to action publicly by speaking at a meeting.
The ultimate accountability for a school board member occurs at the ballot box. If the answers you receive don’t reflect the values and views you and your fellow parents hold, or the call to action is ignored, consider running for school board or supporting those who do!