Questions for School Board Candidates

“I’d go, but what would I ask?” I always encourage IEP parents to attend candidate forums. But that is the response I get so often. You want to inquire about school board candidates and their opinions on special education, IEPs and inclusion. But it can be intimidating, because you can’t think of questions to ask.

One of the great things to come out of the 2016 elections is a renewed enthusiasm and participation in all levels of politics. Americans are finally ‘woke’ as they say. And realizing that your voice and your vote matters.

questions school board candidates

Normally, this year would see an abysmal participation in elections, since it’s an off year. Usually the only thing up for election is school board and no one shows up. I don’t think that will be the case this year. Communities everywhere are seeing more candidates than ever run, and holding forums to meet the candidates.

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What is the School Board Candidate’s Knowledge Base?

I think it’s important to point out, that these forums aren’t to “one up” anyone. Most people do not know a thing about IEPs if their job or parenting doesn’t require it. This is not the time to intimidate them by showing off your knowledge base in a public forum. If this person is elected, you want them on our side. There shouldn’t be ‘sides’ which is kinda my point–not the time to alienate them.

Remember the Maya Angelou saying: “People don’t remember what you said or what you did. But they always remember how you made them feel.”

If the person does not have a strong Special Education and IEP knowledge base, I’d be more on the lookout for other cues and a willingness to learn. That’s what the questions below are designed to do.

This is to get a feel for the candidate. Not make them take a public, verbal test about IDEA.

Strength in Numbers

Whenever I encourage parents to attend these type of events, most hesitate. We NEED you to go. We need IEP parents to attend these things, be our eyes and ears. To see and be seen. “Well, what would I say?” So, in our Facebook group, we crowd-sourced. Easy peasy. And came up with this great list, which I then turned into a free printable PDF for you. Print it and go. That’s it!

Besides the printable below, another great resource is Education Voters. Yes, the are a Pennsylvania-based advocacy group, but they have a TON of valuable information about national issues too. Take a look.

Questions to Ask School Board Candidates

  1. Often, when children have a diagnosis that greatly impacts their maturity, social interactions and behavior, they are given consequences that, while in line with school policies, are ineffective. How do you think we can determine if what we are doing is in fact helping rather than detrimental to these kids? Would you be open to changing long-standing policies related to this, provided there is new research and data to justify doing so?
  2. If a parent approached you with a Special Education concern, and stated that he/she felt that this was a systemic problem, what would you do?
  3. When you have learned that some district personnel are in non-compliance with IDEA (which is a federal law) how would you like to see it handled? What are some ideas you have to prevent issues from becoming systemic?
  4. Besides attending a school board meeting, what can or will you do as a BoE director to hear parent concerns?
  5. Recently, our government passed “XYZ Bill” which many feel will affect special education because….(fill in blank). What do you think our district can and should do to counter balance the negative effects of this legislation?
  6. What do you think is the greatest challenge in xyz school district regarding special education?
  7. For the most part, my child, identified as a child with a disability, is not welcome anywhere besides the public school for his education. But, too often, parents like me who need to rely on the public school more than anyone, have the most contentious relationships with the school. It’s no secret that IEPs and the IEP process carry a significant amount of emotion and stress, as pertains to both parents and teachers. Mere mention of the words “IEP meeting” is usually met with either groans or a “hmph.” What do you think that our district can do, to better the climate and the relationships between staff and parents? What can we do to prevent fractures in these relationships?
  8. I always ask a very general question like “What is your philosophy of special education?” You can tell a lot about whether they have put any thought into it or if they are just spouting back district policy.
  9. What is your experience with inclusion and what do you think our school district can do to increase inclusive practices?
  10. Do you see the inclusion student as an asset to the classroom, or as an obligation and why?
  11. How does the school board determine if district personnel are adequately trained in issues such as autism, behaviors and mental illness?
  12. What do you think it means for students to be supported in the ‘least restrictive environment’?
  13. Budgeting–during the year, new needs arise, new students needing services move in, staff takes a leave of absence. How do you plan to budget for these additional expenses and from where will you redirect additional funds to ensure required services are provided?
  14. Other topics to think about and possibly generate a question: restraint and seclusion, teacher/staff mandatory training, FAPE, contentious nature of IEP meetings, out of district placements, alternative education, manifestation hearings, assistive technology.

Advice from an IEP Parent who does these forums.

We had a school board gifted/special ed forum and solicited questions from our parent support group. Two things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t present over complicated individual or very legal/procedural Special Ed questions. We sent our questions in advance to the school board candidates and they were honestly kind of scared. If the question required too much clarification or background info, we simplified to get clear answers.
  2. The co-leaders of our group moderated questions and follow-up questions very carefully. We didn’t take additional questions from the floor directly so that we didn’t veer off topic. At all of our meetings, we pass out sticky notes and pens and have people in the meeting write questions for us to pick up. We summarized on the fly so we didn’t keep answering the same questions.

Finally, we had time limits for each board member to answer questions so we could get to as many questions as possible. Each board member initially spoke for 5 minutes and then we asked questions. It sounds a little stringent but we’ve been doing forums for 7 years on many topics with other speakers and parents have a tendency to veer away from the subject into personal discussions.

Not a bad thing but when you are trying to have a forum with lots of info and feedback, there really isn’t time. The hard thing to keep in mind is that school board members may have a base knowledge of special ed but that their actual roles are only really about budgets and adding staff. Questions asking more detailed info about special ed procedural info can quickly veer off into FERPA.

Now, here is your printable to print and take with you. Go…and good luck!

This post was originally written in 2017 but was recently updated.

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