Letter – The Law Defines the Lanes of School Boards in Virginia

Published 6:06 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2024

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Dear Editor,


The School Board Member Alliance of Virginia (SBMA) is a dedicated organization for Virginia school board members, aiming to enhance their professional development in alignment with the constitutional and statutory requirements of Virginia.

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In recent decades, the functioning of local school boards has leaned more on habit and hearsay than on the actual legal mandates from the Codes and Statutes of Virginia. A critical question recently posed by an opinion piece in the SNH concerned the defined jurisdiction or lane of local school boards.

Rooted in both the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions, local school boards are endowed with comprehensive governance powers over local school districts. They are the principal authority, charged with the duty to ensure the adherence, enforcement, and comprehension of school laws as also outlined in the statute (§ 22.1-79.1), granting them the broad scope of authority over the local school division.

According to (§ 22.1-79), local school boards have explicitly defined Powers and Duties, encompassing thirteen distinct areas. Specifically, in 22.1-79.2 the law mandates boards must “Secure, by visitation or otherwise, as full information as possible about the conduct of the public schools in the division and take care that they are conducted according to law and with the utmost efficiency.” No permission is needed for any board member to follow this law. It is a non-negotiable legal duty immune to override by any policy or employee within the school division. This is but one area of law that guarantees the breadth of local board authority, reaffirmed by an abundance of Virginia case law.

Additionally, the statutes of Virginia State, specifically § 22.1-253.13.1-9, referred to as the Standards of Quality (SOQs), highlight the extensive range of duties and requirements imposed on local school boards, many of which must be met yearly. The combined authority of the state Board of Education and the local board is overwhelmingly emphasized. Directives toward just local boards are mentioned over 100 times in the SOQs, underscoring their extensive jurisdiction. Local boards are expected to fulfill these obligations. Unfortunately, a board’s effective governance is often hindered by a lack of awareness of these laws, preferring to follow traditional talking points instead of doing what the law requires.

The School Board Member Alliance, an approved agency of the VDOE, dedicates itself to providing effective board training for Virginia school board members, emphasizing their authority and responsibility, and providing truth and knowledge for effective governance.


Sherri Story

SBMA Chair and Executive Director

Former Suffolk School Board Member