This is a Hub Debate on the role of boards of education. For more background, read this. Participate in the comments or submit a response for publication to UtahPoliticoHub@gmail.com. The question is: “Who do you think the board should serve? Parents? Students? Why?“
For me the question as stated has neither legal nor logical weight.
I acknowledge that sometimes the system shifts too far from parents. A good example may be those former attendance policies created by local districts that prohibited parents from removing their children from school more than a certain number of days without a doctor’s signature. Those policies infringed on parental rights. At the same time, if a parent removes their child for a length of time, it is their responsibility to help that child catch up with the work they have missed — the consequences of the child being gone become the responsibility of the parent and the child, not the system.
In my work on the Board I have never differentiated between serving parents and children. If we are serving children we are serving their parents and families. If we are serving parents we are serving their children. It is a differentiation that has no meaning to me except in those instances where the system has a responsibility to protect vulnerable children from abuse, and then the responsibility should automatically and swiftly shift from the education system to the legal system. Fortunately, those instances are few and far between.
By Utah constitutional mandate, the Utah State Board of Education as an entity is vested with the general control and supervision of the public education system, while, as elected individuals, board members are held accountable to the registered voters of their particular districts. Restated, the Board as an entity has the responsibility to serve the public education system as a whole while individual Board members have the responsibility to represent the needs of their constituents while maintaining fidelity to the constitutional duty of the Board to the education system.
How do I translate that to my personal responsibility as I have taken the oath to uphold the U.S. and Utah constitutions three different times? First, I have worked to create broad policies that can be adapted to the vast array of needs within our state, be those needs geographical between rural and urban districts/charters; economic between children from prosperous families to those children in the most desperate financial circumstances; intellectual between those children who are gifted ranging to those with special needs; or children with passionate, caring parents to those with no parents. In creating those policies deliberately broad, I have attempted to meet the priority of serving local control, making it so policies can be appropriately adapted at that local level. I have always prioritized those policies that will strengthen relationships between parents and educators, believing that is where the most important decisions are to be made. At the same time, those policies have to be based on sound educational practice and criteria in order for parents and educators to know whether the child is progressing appropriately.
Second I have felt keenly my accountability to all taxpayers. We must use our limited resources to make sure every child has the opportunity to obtain the knowledge and skills they need and want to find personal satisfaction in their own lives and families and to be contributing, productive citizens in all ways, including economically and civicly.