Should school boards require members to be parents? Arlington County says no

Should there be a requirement that you have to be a parent of an actively enrolled student in order to sit on a school board? It’s a question they took up in Arlington County Wednesday and decided, no. 

The school board’s legislative director said they considered it, and it’s something that one nameless resident brought up in public comment but they opted not to, largely because Virginia law only requires school board candidates to live where they’re running, and be an active voter.

Generally, from Loudoun County, Virginia to Montgomery County, Maryland, and the D.C. State Board of Education, residency and voter registration are the two requirements, with the exception of Prince George’s County, Maryland…for now.

There have been lots of conversations about the role of school boards across our region, particularly in the last few years. 

As to this question of whether there should be a requirement to be an active parent., FOX 5 spoke with parents today, as well as an education policy expert.

Jennifer Clayton is a professor of Educational Leadership at George Washington University. She says there are a host of reasons districts tend to not make something like a parental requirement.

Firstly, there are potential legal repercussions if a district were to add additional requirements to run for a taxpayer-funded office. She also says those interested in running for the school board may have expertise in different areas that can be an asset to a school board, and running for office is, in and of itself, a sign of care for a district. Clayton also pointed to the fact that these are democratically-elected representatives, a form of parents voices being heard.

"I think at the end of the day, what most people I think who are interested in parents increasing their voice or their participation in the events and decisions that are made for schools and school districts, there are lots of ways to meet that demand without setting restrictions on who and who is not eligible to serve on a school board," Clayton said.

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Clayton also says those interested in running for the school board may have expertise in different areas that can be an asset to a school board, and running for office is, in and of itself, a sign of care for a district.

"I think it’s important to remember that school boards have a variety of responsibilities, and actually all those who pay taxes in a particular district really have a vested interest in the quality of the schools and the quality of education their residents are receiving. So there’s a lot of different types of expertise that school board members bring and we rely on in order to make decisions and lead those boards well. So everything from hiring to contracts to facilities management, there’s a lot of different perspectives that aren’t just what’s happening in a classroom, though they all affect what’s happening in a classroom," Clayton added.

FOX 5 spoke with parents who feel that there should not be such a requirement.

"If they trust the system, then let them be on the sidelines, if they have something to say then absolutely, step in and say something, but a requirement. I’m not so sure about that," Noelle Jones said.

"Everybody pays taxes and everybody pays taxes that go to the school district, and if the job of a school board member is to make sure that the money is spent correctly, and they’re educated, they should be able to do that whether they’re parents or not," said Micki Hall, a former school board member herself.

Not everyone feels the same way. Prince George’s County currently has a requirement that one parent be on the board, appointed by the County Executive.

That person is Jocelyn Route.

"It just provides a level of expertise that’s needed when you’re making decisions about the calendar or how money is spent or how to select the next superintendent that’s coming to serve the scholars you’re representing and their families," Route said.

That said, a change in Maryland law means Prince George’s County is changing it’s structure to a purely democratically elected school board based on district and location.  It’s a disappointment for Route, but according to legislative paperwork, something recommended by an education task force in the county.

Route says she will have faith that the new board will adequately represent the interests of students and the community.

An Arlington County Schools official tells FOX 5 four out of the five school board members have kids enrolled in the district.