Working with School Boards
The majority of decisions about sexuality education are made at the local level. As a result, you will likely spend most of your time as an advocate for comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) working with your local school board members.
Get to Know the School Board
Contact each school board member personally. Determine each board member’s educational priorities and their support for CSE.
- Be prepared to use different approaches when reaching out: some board members may be most responsive to e-mail, others will respond more readily to phone calls, and still others may be best reached though “snail mail” addressed to their attention at the school district office.
- Sometimes, it may be most effective to attend a routine school board meeting and make an in-person introduction to individual members before or after the meeting. You do not need to raise the topic of sexuality education immediately. You can use this one-to-one greeting as an opportunity to schedule a follow-up meeting at which you can then discuss sexuality education.
As you learn each board member’s stance on sexuality education, publicize what you find.
- When publicizing the views of a school board member, be prepared to do so through ALL available channels. You may be an avid user of social media such as Facebook or Twitter, but some of the most influential citizens in your community may or may not use social media. Local community newspapers and community radio still have enormous potential to inform those most likely to vote in school board elections. Be sure to get your message out through traditional media as well as digital and social media.
- A respectful and informative tone works best when publicizing school board members’ positions on sexuality education. Social media invites comments from community members (and outsiders) that may become accusatory and overly personal in tone. Monitor such activity if you use social media, and actively reinforce a respectful tone that shows your support for CSE is based on facts, not just feelings.
Discussing Sexuality Education with a School Board Member
Provide each school board member with research and relevant literature. Help each member become as informed as you are.
- Tailor the information to each board member’s key concerns.
- For example, if you learn that one school board member is most concerned about teen pregnancy, be sure to provide that person with information about how the teen pregnancy rates in your community compare to state and national averages. If another board member is most concerned about dropout and truancy, help them see the connection between staying sexually healthy, staying in school, and obtaining a diploma.
- If possible, accomplish these one-to-one meetings before the school board needs to make policy decisions regarding sexuality education in the district. Your early outreach will let them know that you are a reliable source of information and make them more likely to turn to you when a situation arises.
- Have members of your advocacy group take turns attending meetings. Make sure someone is present at all school board meetings. These meetings are often sparsely attended so the presence of even a few people can have a strong impact. Regular attendance prior to any controversy or decision about sexuality education can increase your credibility with the board members.
- Testify at school board meetings. Coordinate your testimony with other people so that your three or four key messages are reiterated.
- Encourage a wide range of community members to contact the school board. Even a few calls, letters, or e-mails can make a big difference in the outcome of a debate about sexuality education.
Set Reasonable Goals
Do not expect a CSE policy to drastically change your community’s teen pregnancy and STD rates, and don’t promise that they will. It takes a wide-reaching, multi-pronged, consistent effort over time to change sexual risk behaviors and social norms. CSE can, however, provide young people in your community with the knowledge and skills they will need to make informed decisions throughout their lives.
Be an Active Citizen during School Board Elections
Remember that, while in some cases school board members may be appointed, most school boards are elected. School board elections typically have low voter turnout, meaning that you can make a big difference in the quality of sexuality education in your community by urging the people you know to vote for candidates who are supportive!
- Organize a voter registration drive and urge people to vote for candidates who support a comprehensive approach to sexuality education.
- Encourage members of your advocacy group to run for seats on the school board! Or, consider running for the school board yourself!
Charter Schools are Different
If you are trying to influence a public charter school, you may discover that policy on sexuality education is determined by a separate governing board–and depending on your state, it may be a charter-specific board or even the State Board of Education. If your state is one of the over 40 U.S. states that authorize charter schools, be sure to confirm whether a local or state board is the appropriate policy-making body to approach. Below are some tips to assist you.