How to Respond When Your School Board Members Act Like District Spokespeople

Do your school board members keep grabbing the district's microphone? We have solutions for that.

Over the past year, there has been a need for quick and accurate information. In a season of uncertainty, many have turned to leaders such as school board members and other important figures in districts to get answers. However, how do you respond when your board members overstep their boundaries and break the unity of one clear voice. Have they posted on social media before the district has had the chance to communicate its message? Are board members answering questions in a way that does not reflect the views of the district? All of these situations can contribute to confusion and disunity in districts. However, these issues often do not arise without a cause. Pinpointing and issues and finding solutions are essential to moving forward.

Brown Act and Social Media

Effective January 1, 2021, in California, new changes were implemented to the Brown Act in regards to board members using and engaging on social media. The changes do authorize individual Board/Council Members to engage in conversations with the public on an “internet-based social media platform to answer questions, provide information to the public, or to solicit information from the public regarding a matter that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.”  Board/Council Members, however, are not authorized to use social media to discuss among themselves business within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.  Additionally, Board/Council Members are prohibited from responding directly to any post and/or comment that is made, posted, or shared by any other Board/Council Member of the same legislative body.” Additional legal information regarding these Brown Act changes are explained in this post by the legal firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo.

Between the changes to the Brown Act and the need for one voice among board members, uniform and intentional communication is essential. 

Governing Guidelines

Governing guidelines and policies help to define board member collaboration and communication. 

Ensure that your Board and Administrative policies on community relations are updated regularly–including reflecting the recent Brown Act changes regarding social media communications–and that your board members are familiar with board policies about community relations.  In most California school districts, this policy usually begins with a clear statement such as this one:

The Governing Board recognizes the district’s responsibility to keep the public informed regarding the goals, programs, achievements, and needs of the schools and district and to be responsive to the concerns and interests of the community. The Superintendent or designee shall establish strategies for effective two-way communications between the district and the public and shall consult with the Board regarding the role of Board members as advocates for the district’s students, programs, and policies.


The California School Boards Association provides
policy services to member California school districts, including sample community relations policies.  Other state school board associations may also provide these types of policy services.  Sounding Board can also provide assistance in creating comprehensive community relations policies.

The California School Boards Association also summarizes the role of the school board is “…to ensure that school districts are responsive to the values, beliefs, and priorities of their communities.” Ultimately, to best serve the district, communication must be uniform. The CSBA Professional Governance Standards for School Boards states “To operate effectively, the board must have a unity of purpose…” 

These guidelines and policies help in clarifying the role and responsibility of school board members in community relations from a governing standpoint.  However, that isn’t always convincing to board members who want to use communication to show accountability to their supporters.

There are also practical ways to help support board members in fulfilling their duties and provide guidelines to ensure their voice does not overstep their position to help encourage one voice.

Balancing Free Expression with Coordination

It is important to guide communications without restricting personal expression. Often if board members feel the need to share information or speak their mind, there is a motivating reason. Perhaps some changes need to happen within your district, or there are unaddressed issues below the surface. Either way pinpointing the source of the problem is crucial.

Let’s explore how to respond when your school board members act like district spokespeople:

  • Provide talking points: Encourage continuity and consistency through district communication and among board members. Talking points are a great tool. Having clear points will help to make the district’s position clear and help provide organization when board members share information and seek to answer questions. This also allows board members to express concern or offer changes to the notes before communication is shared. 
  • Reinforce the importance of one clear voice to avoid confusion: If there are challenges with Board Members overstepping their role and communicating their own perspective that is resulting in public confusion about the school district’s activities or decisions made, it is important to underscore the importance of speaking in one voice. If key figures share different and even conflicting information it can confuse parents, teachers, and give an image of the district that is disorganized. Facts need to be consistent even if peoples’ opinions on the decisions or outcomes differ.
  • Be transparent and listen: Often board members do not voice their own opinion or share information without motivation or a reason. Finding ways to be more open to board members can help get at the heart of the issue. There are multiple approaches to helping your district be more transparent and open to hearing different voices. Some simple approaches include:
    • A weekly communication to the board: Send the board a summary of district activities, issues being handled and any upcoming events that may interest the board.
    • Hold regular meetings with individual board members: Provide them a forum to raise their own questions, voice their concerns and receive information about matters that are of concern to them individually. 
    • Equip the board members with their own set of resources as a base to confirm the facts about matters that concern the board.
  • Separate personal opinion from official district positions, communications: If a board member feels the need to their express personal opinion, then they need to ensure there is a clear distinction between their own personal opinion and not the position of the board as a whole, or an official district position. If board members want to be transparent and show their opinion, it is important that this is made clear.  However, perhaps this is pointing to a larger issue that should be addressed. Does the school district need to respond more quickly, and be more transparent? Maybe the school board member is filling in the gaps that the district needs to fill. People normally have a reason for reaching and responding the way they do. 
  • Identify a solution: Lastly, once there are strategies to help improve communication, also look inward and evaluate your district communications performance. After connecting with board member, they may express concern or frustration over how your district has been providing information.
    • Does communication need to go out faster?
    • Does the district website and/or social media need to be updated more frequently?
    • Do parents feel there is not enough transparency or means to voice concerns and comments?

Through these conversations with your board members, seek out ways to not only improve board member communication, but also your district’s communication to help get at the heart of the problem. Identify the problem, work through the solution, and create more successful outcomes.

  • Engage Board members as communication ambassadors and partners: Through providing regular communication updates to the board–including an annual communication plan and evaluation of communication activities–the superintendent or communications department can ensure that the board is aware of the effectiveness of the district’s communication plan and strategies, and how the board can play a role in the success of the district’s communication.  Engaging the board members as strategic partners as communicators clearly defines their role versus leaving the board member confused about their role and taking matters into their own hands.

Consistency Matters

Uniform communication across your district can be a challenge but ultimately it helps distribute essential information, secure the trust of your district, and allows for open dialogue. If you want to improve your district’s communication strategies or are going through a season of disordered communication you do not have to figure it out on your own. Sounding Board offers services and resources to help you navigate your district’s communication. Sounding Board can help from launching a communication ambassador program to community engagement, and reputation management from the ground up. To learn more about services or a partnership program that best fits the needs of your district visit https://sounding-board.net/products today!

Top 10 Questions Parents Have About In-Person Learning

Are you ready for your school district’s transition to in-person learning?

 

Student wearing a face coveringThis month, we’re kicking off a series of blog posts on Trending Topics….no, not the Kardashians, but real, true trending topics–and challenges-that education leaders and school communicators are facing right now.  

Currently, as schools across the nation are returning students to in-person learning after a year of distance learning, this week’s topic focuses on the Top 10 Questions that parents are asking as their child returns to in-person learning. 

Return to In-Person Learning

As districts are looking to transition to in-person learning, there are many considerations and steps that need to be implemented in order to ensure a smooth transition. Navigating the return to in-person learning is a transition that is new territory for many. Managing communication during the COVID-19 pandemic has been one that has felt like a constant crisis without any playbook, and cannot rely on traditional communications plans. So in this unprecedented season, it is essential to stay proactive in clear and effective communications. Are you ready to handle questions about returning to in-person learning? 

After working with several school districts that have been transitioning to in-person learning, there are some key questions that should be answered as early as possible to prevent rumors and misinformation, and to reinforce stakeholder trust.

Navigating a New Landscape

As school leaders are finding, there is not one correct way to transition to in-person learning. Depending on the grade levels of students being served, classroom sizes, the number of students returning to in-person learning, employee negotiations, state and local health department requirements and more, the planning in-person learning planning process that school leaders are undertaking are detailed and time consuming.  But, remember that this is also a new experience for both students and parents, and they have questions about the process and what to expect. Questions and details left unanswered about transitioning to in-person learning can lead to misunderstanding, rumors, and the spread of false information. Being aware of individuals’ concerns while navigating this new landscape is essential in building and retaining trust throughout this process. 

Proactive Communication

A way to overcome miscommunication is to be proactive and answer common questions ahead of time. Many parents and students have valid concerns about the process and return to in-person learning. Although it is challenging to manage so many details, proactive communication can help demonstrate student safety and maintain parent trust. Implementing a Frequently Asked Questions page on the district’s and schools’ websites, along with the in-person learning plan will help to funnel many of these questions and reinforce trust and your relationships with families.  Share the FAQs via email and social media to ensure that your families see the information.

Student Holding BooksTop 10 Questions Parents have about In-Person Learning

  • What is the schedule? Being clear about the details of the schedule–what days cohorts are attending and during which hours–is an important first question to provide for parents and students. This can be explaining how the schedule will change and similarities to the current structure. A schedule with easy-to-view data will be immensely helpful in funneling initial questions to help accommodate parents. Keep in mind that families need to plan for childcare and adjust their own schedules when these transitions occur.

 

  • How will I be informed about COVID-19 cases in the classroom, on the school campus? Providing specific procedures will help give order and peace of mind to parents so they know exactly what to expect in case of a COVID-19 case on campus. Being clear about covid cases will help show intentionality and transparency.

 

  • What if the teacher or someone in my child’s class is COVID-19 positive? This is an important question for both parents and students to know what to expect. Having clear procedures and expectations and steps to follow will help give clarity to parents.

 

  • Where do I drop off/pick up my student from school? Providing maps and visuals will give a reference to parents. In-person learning will be different from attendance before the pandemic. Communicating specifically the procedures ahead of time for dropping off students will help ensure proper social distancing and safety to help maintain order on the day of returning.

 

  • How will snacks, recess, lunchtime be handled? The daily routine of in-person learning is different from when the pandemic began. What are ways that these daily activities are carried out realistically and safely? This will be an important question to answer not just for parents but students as well since many are curious to see how their interactions with one another will change or feel the same.

 

  • What will be done to promote physical distancing? Since physical distancing can have many applications it is important to define the steps to ensure clear procedures. Having clear expectations and procedures for social distancing will help give peace of mind to parents to see a safe learning environment.

 

  • What are the disinfecting procedures? Demonstrating thoughtful and clear procedures for disinfecting will help to model the promotion of a safe learning environment. What are regular disinfecting practices throughout the day and what are deeper janitorial practices that will be implemented?

 

  • What measures will be implemented on campus to ensure the safety of staff and students? Beyond physical distancing and regular disinfecting what safety measures can students and staff expect? What types of screening procedures will be required of students and staff? Are there similarities and differences between the procedures between staff and students? Include visuals and graphics to help make steps memorable and clear.

 

  • What happens if a student comes to school ill? Addressing possible scenarios helps give clarity to parents, staff, and students on the proper actions and steps to take in case of an illness. This will help to demonstrate further the safeguards in place to promote a safe learning environment in multiple situations.

 

  • Will my child be assigned to a different teacher? This is an important question to answer for both parents and students. Knowing what to expect ahead of time will help in the transition and allow students to best connect with their teacher.

The Bottom Line: Communication Matters

Implementing questions and answers about in-person learning is helpful in not only maintaining organization but builds parent trust. Proactive communication helps minimize the spread of confusion and helps to funnel common questions. 

 

We Are Here to Help

If you’re balancing school/district leadership with communication responsibilities, and you’re finding yourself falling behind on timely and consistent communications across your communication channels, Sounding Board Marketing & Communications can help. You can discover services to help school districts navigate communicating well in an unfamiliar landscape. To learn more about communication services that best fit the needs of your district you can explore Sounding Board Marketing & Communications Strategic Services. Schedule a 30-min consultation today and discover proactive communication to help fuel a positive and impactful transition to in-person learning.