Busting the myths of school policy

by Stephanie Combs

On Board Online • February 19, 2018

By Stephanie Combs
Associate Policy Consultant

When your board discusses school policy, do you ever hear things you consider "fake news"? It's out there. Many myths in the world of school policy have been brought to our attention. Here are just some of the misconceptions that have been recognized over the past year:

Myth #1:
Every policy needs an administrative regulation, and all regulations must be adopted by the board.

While state law requires regulations for your policies on some issues (e.g., Purchasing and Investments), most of your school policies can be successfully implemented without additional documentation. Including a regulation for each policy can just cause clutter or repetition within a policy manual.

Generally, superintendents should have flexibility in how they implement board policies. If they develop regulations, they don't necessarily have to be approved by the board.

Fact checker's recommendation: Include administrative regulations in the policy manual only when required by law or recommended by NYSSBA. The same goes for board adoption of regulations.

Myth #2:  Your whole policy manual should be re-adopted every year.

Several policies need to be reviewed annually: Code of Conduct (NYSSBA number 5300), Investments (NYSSBA number 6240), Purchasing (NYSSBA number 6700), and Title I/Parent and Family Involvement (NYSSBA number 1900).

At least annually, the board must also review data on attendance (NYSSBA number 5100) and anything else the board has specified as subject to annual review.

Simply doing a "pro forma" readoption of the entire manual, without proper review, can lull the district into a false sense of security that the manual is current and compliant, which may not be the case in light of new laws, regulations, legal decisions or change in culture or practice at the district.

Fact checker's recommendation: Policy manuals should be reviewed on a rolling basis. All parts of the manual should be looked at over a three- to five-year review cycle.

Myth #3:  Annual signing of the oath of office is required.

Every board member is required to sign the oath of office when they officially assume their duties as a member of the board of education. This is not an annual requirement for each member, nor should it be. Once the oath is signed, it lasts through an entire term of office.

Fact checker's recommendation: Each board member only has to sign the oath of office at the beginning of his or her term of office.

Myth #4:  It's our school board, so we are free to organize our officers however we want.

District school boards have a lot of freedom to decide on how they would like the board to run consistent with state Education Law and the state Open Meetings Law. However, flexibility regarding the organization of the board is limited. For example, it would be improper for a board to decide to have two vice presidents, limit the term of office for a president, or decide only board members with a certain number of years on the board can serve as an officer.

Fact checker's recommendation: Ask your school attorney before making any changes to the organization of your board and its officers.

Myth #5:  If something is in the law, it must be reflected by a school policy.

On the one hand, your school policies should be consistent with law. But they don't need to repeat it unless the law specifically calls for such action.

Here are two reasons: First, the law changes. A verbatim repetition of law can lead to outdated information. Second, the phraseologies used in law tend to be hard to understand. A school policy manual should be written in plain language and accessible to all interested parties.

Although there are times when information provided in law can be useful to include in a comprehensive policy, you will only be using a portion of the law to reflect the vision of the district.

Fact checker's recommendation: State law and school policy may contain similar information, but don't quote or restate large portions of the law.

While there are many pitfalls of policy, NYSSBA's Policy Services Department can help your board avoid them. We find that some of the best questions come from board members who have done research and just want to be sure that their information isn't outdated or coming from an unreliable source. (You may find something another district is doing that is actually impermissible under the law.)

Sometimes, even if information comes from a reliable up-to-date source, the policy wording provided may be confusing or prone to misinterpretation.

Your school attorney is an invaluable resource when drafting school policy. And never hesitate to contact NYSSBA Policy Services.

If you have any questions about this topic or any other policy related matter, please email policy@nyssba.org or call (800) 342-3360 and ask to speak with a member of the Policy Services Department.

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