Commentary: School boards can prevent more families from leaving public education by rejecting racial politics and focusing on basic learning
By Liv Finne
Public school boards are currently facing many controversies. This fall, the families of 50,000 students withdrew their children from Washington public schools, or 5% of the state’s total enrollment. School board members hear a lot of complaints from parents about politics interfering with child rearing work. As a result, there is some confusion about the responsibilities and powers of local school boards.
Let’s review. Many parents have withdrawn their children from public schools, for a number of reasons, including:
1. Children lost between four and seven months of learning due to COVID school closures; parents fear that schools will not help their children catch up;
2. Parents are angry that racial politics have taken hold of schools;
3. Parents fear that the state has lowered the quality of teaching reading, math, science and history by injecting critical ideas about racial theory into every subject;
4. Parents are angry that the state has imposed sweeping sex education that encourages five-year-olds to question their biological sex;
5. Parents are unhappy with Governor Inslee’s mandates for masks and vaccines;
6. Parents are concerned about threats from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Education to withhold funding for the district unless Governor Inslee’s mandates are met.
Considering all of these issues, what should a school board member do?
State law provides some answers. School board members have the power to resolve most of these controversies at the local level. Washington is a state of local control. The school board hires and fires the school principal. The school board controls the district budget. The school board controls the curriculum that teachers use in the classroom.
These powers are provided for by state law:
RCW 28A.320.015 School administrative boards – Powers:
The board of directors of each school district may exercise:
1. The broad discretion to determine and adopt written policies that are not in conflict with other laws which provide for the development and implementation of programs, activities, services or practices that the council determines
2. Promote the education and daily physical activity of Kindergarten to Grade 12 students in public schools; Where
3. Promote the effective, efficient or safe management and operation of the school district.
b. Powers expressly authorized by law; and
vs. Powers which are necessarily or equitably involved in powers expressly authorized by law.
RCW 28A.320.230 indicates that local school boards establish an instructional materials policy. The school board then approves the material selected by the competent committee. Paragraph (1) (f) provides:
“The recommendation of teaching materials will be made by the district teaching materials committee in accordance with district policy. Approval or disapproval must be given by the local school district board of directors.
The failure of local school boards to exercise their authority under the law fuels many controversies facing public schools.
Parents have many reasons to leave the public education system, and the lingering divisions in our politics push even more families to seek alternatives. Under state law, the best way for a school board to retain families and serve children is to re-focus on basic learning, reject politics and push for school. racial segregation, and promote equal treatment and civil rights for all.
Liv Finne is the director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center.