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Keep School Board Members Away from Schools?

Crazy news about schools keeps coming in.  The Little Rock School District recently considered a proposal to restrict the ability of individual school board members to visit the schools to find out what is going on. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the policy would prevent a school board member from being on school property except under a limited list of reasons.

“Those reasons included business related to the board member’s own student at a school, public events such as athletic competitions, meetings with the superintendent or designee, or by invitation of the school or district administration. The policy draft further states that School Board members will ‘inform or consult with the superintendent’ in advance of being in a school district building — unless it is for a public event or related to the board member’s own child.”[i]

The policy would prevent an individual school board member from observing the normal school routine and would limit the school board member’s ability to visit teachers privately without the watchful eye of school administrators. Requiring a school board member to “inform and consult with the superintendent in advance” would in essence make a school board member totally reliant on information filtered through the superintendent.

Under the Arkansas Constitution and statutes, a school board is in charge of the supervision of the schools and is even required to observe classrooms at a minimum of once a year. The restrictive proposal would mean observations would only be at a staged event controlled by the superintendent.

For most of what goes on in the schools, school boards must rely on and must trust the superintendent. But whether you are talking about working with and trusting a superintendent or the bookkeeper of your company, blind trust is never enough. The saying goes “trust but verify.”

The proposed policy comes at a time when parents and guardians and taxpayers, in general, are seeing schools around the country push radical left indoctrination and in some places are being treated as meddlers or even as domestic terrorists for questioning school policies and actions. The people elect the school board to oversee their school.  And if even school board members are pushed away, there will be even less trust.

Fortunately, the proposed policy did not come to a vote.  And a school board member plans to prepare and present an alternative policy at a future meeting. Will the new proposal be just a little less restrictive or will it affirm the right of school board members to inspect the school unannounced at any time? Probably the former.

How did all this come up? There is a squabble between the principal of one school and a school board member. The principal accused the school board member of seeking to have her fired and included a list of accusations against the school board member.  Who is in the right and who is in the wrong, we do not know.  All we know is a policy blocking school board members is not a healthy outcome.  We focus here on only the allegation concerning the school board member’s presence at the school which complains of the school board member “entering classrooms and teacher work areas without permission.”

Why would a school board member need “permission” to enter a classroom or teacher work areas? Apparently, they don’t yet.  But that freedom offends the school administration and therefore the proposed new policy.

Restricting a school board member from checking out a school at any time would be like saying the Governor can’t inspect a state agency without notice and permission of the agency head, or a Highway Commissioner needing permission to visit with staff of the Department of Highways and Transportation, or a State Representative needing permission to enter the staff area of the House of Representatives, or telling the executive board of a corporation to stay away from the company unless invited by the CEO.

Parents and taxpayers can’t go into a school to find out what is going on, and some teachers are fearful of losing their jobs if they openly complain about practices in a school. If school board members are shackled by such a policy, there is no one left to verify the actual practices in a school.

Whatever complaints there are between the principle and the school board member, those complaints need to be addressed in different way.

This is not the time to restrict school board members from their schools. It is time to affirm the right and duty of school board members to have free access to school facilities and staff.

[i] “School Board debates rules on campus visits” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 9/11/2022

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