May 2021

Member Query:

How do you best handle parents requesting to attend board meetings

Unfortunately, there is no universal answer to the question of whether parents can attend board meetings. According to Caryn Pass, at Venable, LLP, it depends on the state statutes, your board’s bylaws and whether your school is a membership or non-membership organization.

This is certainly not common practice but schools should know the legal parameters on this issue and consulting with your school’s attorney would be advised.


Here are some thoughts that Cathy Trower has shared on this topic:

• Best practices when it comes to school community communications with the board.

There may be “best” practices out there somewhere, but I’m unaware of them. My advice is to think less about what others are doing in the form of communication and think more about what makes sense for your school, with its culture, in this climate. So many issues that come before boards nowadays are sensitive and politically and socially charged. There are no “best” or “right” approaches. My view is that trustees need to discuss matters as astute fiduciaries unhampered by the views of parents and other constituents who might want to hold sway or make demands or add pressure just by being in the room as trustees deliberate.

This means that the board must be able to govern in private, sometimes in executive session.

• Open public sessions of board meetings vs closed sessions.

I am not a fan of public board meetings. Public governance is wrought with difficulty, as seen in the press with public board operating in sunshine states (numerous examples in higher education sector).

• How do boards handle requests from the school community ( parents, faculty) to attend board meetings?

I am not sure how boards handle requests from the school community to attend board meetings, but I imagine there are plenty of ideas among your listserv chairs that could be helpful. My view is that those requests should be respectfully denied and note that board meeting minutes or highlights may be posted after meetings (and in accordance with your school’s bylaws and policies).

• Suggestions on how the board can set up a process for the community to communicate with the board on appropriate topics.

One idea would be to set up a task force or ad hoc working group comprised of a few trustees and staff members with expertise in communication to propose such a process for consideration by the full board. The task force might also some parents who are not current trustees and a former trustee or two.

In all cases, the Head of School should be integrally involved.