Making the Most of Your First Term – 8
INTRODUCTION TO SCHOOL LAW FOR BOARD MEMBERS
What are the laws governing what a School Board can and can’t do?
Local school districts were created by the Legislature to formulate policies for the operation of school districts in order to implement the requirements of the constitution and state laws.
State laws that pertain to school districts include, Title 11 or Criminal Law, Title 14 Education, Libraries and Museums, Title 18 Health, Safety and Housing, Title 23 Labor and Workers’ Compensation, Title 24 Legislature, Title 28 Motor Vehicles, Title 29 Municipal Government, Title 37 Public Finance, Title 40 Public Records and Recorders, Title 44 State Government and Title 47 Welfare, Social Services and Institutions.
Many laws authorize the State Board of Education to prescribe rules affecting local school operations. These are included in the Alaska Administrative Code and commonly referred to as regulations.
Laws and regulations are key elements in the development of policy. AASB’s Policy service keeps track of changes in federal and state laws and regulations that can impact your districts. The Annual Policy Update provides your district with samples that have been reviewed by attorneys and are in compliance with current laws and regulations.
Can the family of school board member work for the school district?
The immediate family of a school board member cannot be employed by the school district except upon written approval of the commissioner of Education and Early Development. However, there is no restriction on the continued employment of an individual whose immediate family member is seated on the school board after the individual’s initial employment.
School board members may not work for the district under any circumstances while serving on the Board.
What are the legal requirements for School Board meetings?
School Boards must meet in compliance with the Open Meetings Act. Basically, the Open Meetings Act requires that all School Board meetings, including most committee meetings, be open to the public and proper notice must be given to announce regularly scheduled meetings as well as special meetings. Minutes of the meetings must be taken and include specific information required by the Open Meetings Act.
Which meetings of the school board does the Open Meetings Law cover?
All regular, special and emergency meetings (including teleconferences) at which more than three board members, or a majority of members, whichever is less, are present.
How much notice to the public should be given for meetings?
AASB’s model Board Bylaw recommends the following:
- A yearly calendar listing the date, time and place of each regular meeting.
- Notice of regular meetings and a tentative agenda should be posted at least five days prior to a meeting.
- Special meeting notices should be posted at least 24 hours prior.
- Emergency meetings can be called immediately, but local media should be notified. If that is not possible, the board should notify the media that a meeting was held and describe its purpose and any action taken.
What are the rules for executive sessions?
A majority of the board must vote in open session to go into executive session. The motion must state clearly the subject of the proposed executive session.
Subjects that can be discussed in executive session include:
- Matters, the immediate knowledge of which would clearly have an adverse impact on the finances of the school district.
- Subjects that tend to prejudice the reputation and character of any person, provided the person may request a public discussion.
- Matters which by law, municipal charter or ordinance are required to be confidential; or,
- Matters involving consideration of government records that by law are not subject to public disclosure.
The board may not take action in executive session, except to give direction to an attorney or labor negotiator regarding a specific matter.
How much should a school board member know about the law?
Given the complex nature of laws applicable to school districts, school boards and their members can’t be expected to know the details of federal and state employment laws, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, student records and discipline, contract matters, unfair labor practices, much less the specifics of education department regulations.
Board members should know the open meeting law and laws pertaining to disclosing information about students and personnel at their meetings. Your superintendent, personnel director and business official are good sources for information that can keep the board on the right path. However, Boards also need to have direct access to attorneys whose specialty is education law. Attorneys should be utilized as a resource when the Board has a question about a particular matter and before any action is taken.
How is my school district attorney appointed?
The Board appoints a legal counsel to provide legal advice to the Board and Superintendent or designee. The school district attorney works for the entire Board. Procedures should be clear as to who has authority to contact the attorney from the district and within the Board. Most Boards have a bylaw that makes clear who has authorization to contact the attorney, giving broad discretions to the superintendent.