How to Impact Education Policy

Ellen Mauer
Ellen Mauer
Elementary school principal; Ph.D. in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies
‘Education Policy’ written on paper next to a pen.

What is Education Policy and Who Makes It?

Every public school district has a policy manual—online in today’s world. A policy manual is a set of documents that serve as directives for the way the district is run by administration and school leadership. Publishing it on the website increases transparency. Board policy manuals must be aligned with state and federal law and cited in each policy. The members of a board of education create and set policy during board meetings with support from the superintendent and administrative team. Policy manuals are regularly reviewed and updated. They are general in nature and actual procedures are typically written from these policies and carried out within the school buildings.

Who Can Have an Impact on School District Policy?

Any stakeholder in a district has the potential to affect policies. The employees, students, parents, and community members who are residents have the greatest impact. State and federal legislators, too, have a significant ability to impact policy every time they pass a new law.

Ways to Affect School District Policy

There are steps that one must take to change school district policy. It is important to follow the chain of command when trying to make changes so that administrators and board members are not caught unprepared. Although it can be tempting to ruffle feathers about an issue that may be very personal, getting emotional and creating havoc will not make anyone eager to work together for a change. It’s best to be calm and thoughtful about the issue.

When there is policy that one wants to change, the first thing to do is research the policy. Review the online policy manual and then see what specific laws, if any, are noted at the end. Check those laws to be sure they are current. If something is law, no amount of working with the district will get them to change it. They are not able to ignore state and/or federal law. At that point, take your views to legislators to see if you can get them to change the law. They typically would like to be re-elected so they do listen to reasonable requests.

If you find that no laws are cited, write down ideas about why the policy needs to change. Check out surrounding school districts and review their policy on the matter. They may have something different that you can use for your research. Check to see if there is any research supporting your point of view. Call your principal and let them know that you are interested in this policy and ask questions about how it is implemented. Ask them what they think about changing it to your point of view and carefully listen. There may be reasons for this policy that weren’t clear.  Or, you may find that they, too, do not agree with the current policy.

Next, go to the district level and ask for an appointment with the superintendent. Be clear about the intent of the meeting so that the superintendent is not caught unprepared. Let them know the policy that you will discuss so that they can be ready. If the superintendent can be convinced to bring it to the board level, the objective will be attained.  Be calm and present your arguments in a well thought out, coherent manner. The most important point to bring up is any effect on students. Students are at the center of all decision-making taking place.

If the superintendent is not moved, let them know that you will take it to the next level, the board of education. You can go to the website and get emails and contact information for board of education members. Frame your arguments in a letter and send it to each person. Call and ask to meet with the board president to discuss this policy. It is best to address the board president initially to see if you can garner support.

Going to a board of education meeting is not recommended for several reasons. First of all, a board meeting is a meeting for the board to conduct business of the school district in public. It is not a meeting for the public to come and hold discussion. There are public comment sections of the meeting and those are typically held with a time limit, 3-5 minutes is common. No one is going to be convinced to change a board policy from one speech given in 3-5 minutes. They may also ask if you brought up your concern to the administration first. If you have not, they will direct you back through the appropriate chain of command.

It is also not recommended to gather together in a group and approach the administration and school board as a group. It is more impactful for individuals to state their own cases and not rely upon a group. When single individuals regularly contact the administration and/or school board, it becomes a pattern that bears looking into.

The best example this author has seen took place in an Illinois school district. The school nurse was bothered by a no-nit policy that the district had for head lice. The policy read that if any nits were discovered in a child’s head, that child could not be in class until all nits were extinguished. The nurse felt that nits were not giving a disease to others and that it was excessive to ban the child from school until all nits were gone. He got medical information from the American Academy of Pediatrics that stated the same thing and recommended that students be allowed to come to school and take care of the nits at home so they would not miss instruction.

He first ran it by the principal and though she was not moved by the argument, he stated his intent to bring it to the district office. He shared his information and request with the superintendent and head of student services, and they advocated with him to the board of education to change the policy so that students would no longer be excluded from the educational environment. The board of education agreed to this change. Even one person can have a profound impact on educational policy and the improvement of public-school education.

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