School board meetings are a great way for parents to get involved in their child's education and make an impact on the community. Here's why you should head over to the next one.

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What is taught in the school is the foundation of your community's future. That's why, aside from voting, attending school board meetings could be one of the most important things you do for your children, especially as debates about critical race theory curriculums and best practices for inclusion continue in districts across the country.

All community members and taxpayers have a right to attend school board meetings. Though it varies by the state, school board meetings are usually held monthly and generally run by five to nine elected or appointed officials holding a four-year term. School boards address budgets, academic calendars, regulations for disciplinary actions of students, policies, setting the goals for the district, and more. That's why it's important to attend with the intention to listen, learn, and be a supportive member of the community because change doesn't happen if you don't show up and take action.

An image of empty chairs.
Credit: Getty Images.

Here's why parents (and all community members) should attend a school board meeting—even when there isn't a controversial topic on the agenda.

Your Voice Matters

Don't agree with a zero-tolerance policy, believe financial literacy should be introduced in elementary school, or think the district needs to practice social-emotional learning? Visit the school district website to learn what's on the agenda and how you can have your concerns considered. Every school board meeting typically allows time for public comment and participation.

While some large decisions may have little to do with public comment and more to do with state laws, such as mask mandates, board members still want to know what you have to say, according to R.J. Dunn, Ed.D., former Illinois state superintendent and author of The Change-Making Board: Consequential Governance for Public & Nonprofit Organizations. "I do think that at least equal weight will be given to what school trustees hear from the community," he adds.

Attending school board meetings also helps to make sure the voices of others, particularly the underserved, get heard as well. "I rarely see any parent or school member attend a meeting who didn't already have a leadership position in the PTA or some other school affiliated organization," says Schnelle Acevedo, content marketer and mother of three in Brooklyn, New York, who attended school meetings monthly pre-COVID. "It was always the same people which sometimes meant everyone's concerns weren't being addressed and it focused on the fun stuff like fundraising and events, and I wanted to hear about homework, testing, and after school programs."

It Makes Voting Easier

School board elections are just like other local elections, but they are routinely synonymous with low voter turnout, despite them being the closest thing we have to pure democracy in this country, according to Dunn.

Anyone regardless of education, parental status, and political affiliation can become a member of the school board. "They are individuals with their own interests," says Khrisma McMurray, a graduate student and former school board candidate in Warren, Indiana.

Attending meetings allows you the opportunity to learn whose values align with the vision of the school and the community. "Maybe Angela is on the school board, and she always argues for finance or Hilary pushes for arts, and that's a big deal for you because your child is interested in the arts," adds McMurray. "These are the things you can pick up at meetings."

Plus, if you have concerns in your child's classroom and they are falling to be heard, it could be because the teachers and principal you've communicated with are only one part of the equation. Many of the circumstances in the classroom are dictated by the school board so it's in everyone's best interest to know who they are so they can participate and vote knowledgeably.

It Holds People Accountable

"Schools typically make up the largest share of your local tax bill, and attending meetings is a powerful reminder of board members' stewardship of your tax dollars," says Dunn.

By attending board meetings, community members put themselves in the position to ask board members the tough questions on behalf of the community. That can ensure they are acting in everyone's best interest, living up to expectations, and acting in a way that brings the vision for the school to life.

School boards share accountability with parents over the most critical elements of a child's growth and development: learning, socialization, health, nutrition, and safety. Parents become true partners with schools when they comprehend the full range of what schools are responsible for and how boards arrive at the decisions they make about kids, says Dunn.

You Learn About Community Safety

Safety concerns are also common topics on school board agendas. If there is a threat at the school in your neighborhood, for example, you'll want to know about it. And, keep in mind, there's a chance you won't be notified if you aren't a parent to a child at that specific school despite your proximity to it. "It's not always about the national issues," explains Dunn. "All of these local decisions and discussions have a great deal of impact beyond the school."

It's a Form of Activism

Civic duty doesn't start and end with paying taxes, voting, and following the law. It also means completing jury duty and attending civic meetings, which includes school board meetings. At a time, when so much activism seems performative and often ends with a powerful statement on Instagram, attending school board meetings is an act of public service that gives you direct access to a governing body to impact meaningful change. Building a thriving community takes a village and attending school board meetings is concrete form of activism to make sure you are an informed participant in that village.