Ask the Experts

Must a school board give individual notice of school board meetings to someone who requests such notice?

Yes.  The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) specifically recognizes that any person may file a written request for direct, individual notification of all school board meetings.  Such a request must be renewed annually and should include the requester’s name,  address, zip code, daytime phone number, email address (if available) and organization (if any).  Va. Code § 2.2-3707.E.

Can there be a student member of our school board?

School boards may have student representatives.  Student representatives are not members of the school board.  They cannot vote; they serve in an advisory capacity.  Whether or not to have student representatives is a local decision.  Each school board may decide whether or not to have student representatives.  If a board does decide to have student representatives, the board decides how the student representatives are chosen and how long each representative serves.  Va. Code § 22.1-86.1. VSBA Policy BBBB. 

Is the superintendent’s contract a public document?

Yes.  In fact, contracts of all public employees who earn over $10,000 per year are public documents. Va. Code § 2.2-3705.8.

Do parents have a legal right to opt their students out of taking high-stakes tests?

Not in Virginia.  State law in some states does give parents a right to decide that their students will not take the state’s high-stakes tests, but there is no similar law in Virginia.  Students need to take SOL assessments to receive verified credits in order to graduate.  In addition, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires that 95% of enrolled students must take SOL assessments in order for the school and division to make Annual Yearly Progress (AYP).  Although some parts of NCLB have been waived, that part has not.  Thus, any school in which 5 or more per cent of the students do not take required SOL tests will fail to make AYP regardless of how well the students who do take the test perform.  The failure to make AYP leads to serious sanctions which impact every student in the division.

 

How does a special meeting get called?

It’s a local decision.  School boards which have adopted VSBA sample policy BDB Special School Board Meetings hold special meetings when called by the chair or by two or more school board members. That policy also provides that special meetings may be held as long as each board member is notified or a reasonable attempt has been made to notify each member.  Notice of a special meeting must be given to the public at the same time notice is given to the school board members.

Do the records retention rules apply to social media posts?

Posts made or received in connection with a school board’s business are public records. As is the case for email, the retention period is determined based on the content of the message, not the format. Thus, the same retention period applies to social media posts that would apply if the information was distributed via letter or email. Each school board determines how it will retain posts that are under its control. When the board does not have control of the post (such as is the case for Facebook or Twitter) the board needs to determine what records it can retain, such as confirmations of each posting or screenshots. Each school board, or its records officer(s), should consider these issues when it reviews contracts with social networking sites and the settings configuration for each social networking account.

What happens if neither the chair nor the vice-chair can be present at a meeting?

The school board members who are present at the meeting select another board member to chair the meeting.

When and where do school board members file the Statement of Economic Interests?

School board members first file the Statement as a condition of assuming office. After that, school board members must file the Statements twice a year, by December 15 and June 15. The Statements are filed with the school board clerk who maintains them as public records for five years. The 2015 General Assembly added a provision to the Conflict of Interests Act which imposes a $250 fine on any school board member who fails to file the Statement. If a school board member fails to file the Statement, the school board clerk is required to report the failure to the local Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Who administers the oath of office to school board members?

The oath of office may be administered to school board members by the clerk of the circuit court or by any judge.

Can our school board hold its organizational meeting in June?

No. Virginia law specifies that school boards can hold their organizational meetings, at which the board’s meeting schedule is established and at which the chair, vice chair, clerk and deputy clerk are chosen, in either July or January. Although some boards would like to hold the organizational meeting early (in June or December), the law does not permit this.

What happens when a school board’s vote ends in a tie?

It depends on a couple of things. First, if a tie vote occurs when all board members are not present, the question is passed by until the next meeting. If there is still a tie vote at the next meeting, or if there is a tie vote when all the members of the board are present, the procedure depends on whether or not the board has a tie breaker. If the board does have a tie breaker, the clerk immediately notifies the tie breaker and asks the tie breaker to attend the meeting in order to vote to break the tie. If the tie breaker cannot attend that meeting, a date for a future meeting will be set. If the tie breaker needs time to become fully informed on the issue involved in the vote, the tie breaker is entitled to delay the vote. When the tie breaker votes, the tie is broken and the matter is decided in accordance with his vote. If the board does not have a tie breaker, the motion on which the vote is taken fails.

How does an elected school board fill a vacancy on the board?

The procedure for filling vacancies on an elected school board is specified in the Code of Virginia. Filling a vacancy is a two-step process. The first step is to fill the vacancy on an interim basis. The second step is for the vacancy to be filled for the remainder of the term by a special election. The procedure for filling the vacancy on an interim basis is stated in Va. Code § 24.2-228. The remaining members of the board are permitted (but not required) to appoint someone to fill the vacancy. The person they appoint must be a qualified voter of the election district (if any) in which the vacancy exists. The person so appointed will serve until the seat is filled by a special election. If the school board is going to make an interim appointment, it must do so within 45 days of the vacancy.

The special election is ordered by the local circuit court pursuant to Va. Code § 24.2-226. The school board’s only responsibility with regard to the special election is to give the court notice of the vacancy. The school board must give notice of the vacancy to the circuit court within 15 days of the vacancy.

Can my board hire close family members of a board member?

Maybe; it depends on which Planning District the board is in. Va. Code § 2.2-3119. You can learn which Planning District your board is in by visiting http://www.vapdc.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=21

May the board vote on the superintendent’s contract in closed session?

No. In fact, the board cannot vote on anything in closed session. Va. Code 2.2-3710.

How many copies of the school board’s policy manual must be maintained?

At one time, Virginia law required each school board to maintain copies of the school board policy manual in each school and in every public library in the division. Now, however, the law requires that a current copy of all division policies and regulations must be posted on the division’s website and available to employees and the public. School boards must ensure that printed copies of policies and regulations are available as needed for people who do not have online access.

Are school divisions required to accept applications for charter schools?

Yes. When Virginia’s charter school law was first enacted, each division was permitted to decide whether or not to accept applications for charter schools. The law has been changed to require every division to accept applications for charter schools.

Are draft minutes public records?

Yes. Draft copies of minutes are public records and must be produced upon request.

How often must teachers be evaluated?

Teachers who have not achieved continuing contract status must be evaluated every year. In addition, teachers in the first year of their probationary period must be evaluated informally at least once during the first semester of the school year. Teachers who have achieved continuing contract status must be formally evaluated at least once every three years and more often as deemed necessary by the principal. In addition, they must be informally evaluated during every year in which they are not formally evaluated.

Is the board required to take action to hire part-time employees?

Yes. The board has the responsibility to hire all employees, regardless of whether they are full-time or part-time.

Do we have to give notice of a meeting if the only item on the agenda will be a closed session?

Yes.  The board must meet in open session and vote to go into closed session.  In addition, every closed session must be followed by a certification in open session.  Boards cannot hold “stand alone” closed sessions.

How do I get an item on a meeting agenda?

Each school board establishes its own process for creating meeting agendas.  In divisions which have adopted VSBA Policy BDDC Agenda Preparation and Dissemination, the school board chair prepares the agenda with the assistance of the superintendent.  Any member of the board may submit items for inclusion on the agenda.

May the school board hire someone who has been convicted of a felony?

No.  Va. Code § 22.1-296.1 prohibits school boards from hiring anyone who has been convicted of a felony. That statute also prohibits school boards from hiring anyone who has been of any offense involving the sexual molestation, physical or sexual abuse or rape of a child.