Q: Our district would like to create a COVID-19 tracking dashboard to share with our school community information on positive cases in our district. May we do so?
Yes, but with limitations in accordance with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Districts may create dashboards to track positive cases, but the data must be shared in a non-personally identifiable form either by itself or when taken in the context of other information. The United States Department of Education has stated in their guidance FERPA and the Coronavirus Disease 2019
, “. . . we caution educational agencies or institutions to ensure that in releasing such facts, they do so in a manner that does not disclose other information that, alone or in combination, would allow a reasonable person in the school community to identify the students who are absent due to COVID-19 with reasonable certainty.”
What this means for districts is that sharing large scale data, such as the number of total positive cases among students or employees would be unlikely to violate FERPA. However, breaking down the number of positive cases by school building, grade level, or classroom could violate FERPA, particularly if the broken down data is easy to identify. For instance, if a district has two positive cases in the second grade at ABC Elementary, then providing all of that identifying information could lead to discovery of who the affected students are by their absence from class. But if the district reports two positive cases among students districtwide, then it would be much more challenging for a reasonable person to identify the individual students.
Q: Some parents in my district don't seem to understand the distinction between home schooling/private instruction and remote learning provided by the district. A number of parents have requested private instruction as an option for their children this year. Is the district allowed to contact those parents and ask whether they intend to engage in home school, or whether the parents were thinking they were choosing remote learning?
A: Yes, the district may contact parents or guardians and ask to clarify their intention for instructing students. There is no provision in Iowa Code or Iowa Administrative Code that would prevent this inquiry and it would assist parents, students and the district to clarify everyone’s expectations for the upcoming year.
Q: Parents, community members and students are concerned about what precautions our district is taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19. What resources do districts have on this topic?
The Iowa Department of Public Health has guidance on its website
, including talking points, FAQ and webinars. Check to make sure your district policies on communicable diseases are up to date.
Q: Is it OK for employees in my district to meet virtually once a week after work hours for the employees to socialize and let off steam?
Of course! Now more than ever it is important for your employees to feel supported and connected as a team. However, if the meetings occur after normal work hours and/or involve the consumption of alcohol such as a “virtual social hour”, these should take place using privately-owned devices and on a private virtual meeting platform account, not on district resources. It is important to remember that virtual meeting platforms are a district resource that is publicly funded and must fulfill a public purpose in accordance with the Iowa Constitution Art. III, sec. 31.
Q: Is the board legally required to adopt a policy regarding English Learner (EL) students?
While there isn't a legal requirement that a specific board policy be adopted regarding EL students or an EL program, districts may choose to have a board policy regarding either. There are also several required policies regarding education opportunity and non-discriminatory practices that are related to providing an equitable education. For example, some related Sample Policies are 102 Equal Education Opportunity, 501.16 Homeless Children and Youth, 505.8 Parent and Family Engagement, 603.4 Multicultural/ Gender Fair Education , 605.6R1 Internet - Appropriate Use Regulation. Please review your district's policies and consult IASB's Sample Policies as a reference.
Q: Should the board include mandatory policies as district policies, or is it sufficient to address the mandatory policies in a handbook or other district document?
IASB provides a list of mandatory policies; these policies should be included in the district's policy reference manual. It's also a good idea to reference or include them in the district handbook.
Q: Our board is interested in creating a committee to address employee issues. What should our board consider before creating a committee?
If your board is considering creating a committee, follow these steps to ensure compliance:
Consult your district’s policy on committees and compare the policy to IASB Sample Policy 208 on Ad Hoc Committees. Some committees, such as a Labor Management Committee
, may require additional obligations to the district.
Work with legal counsel to ensure any proposed committee is compliant with the law.
Outline the purpose, structure, duties and authority of the proposed committee before taking action.
Q: Are we legally required to release the superintendent's contract, upon request from the community?
Yes. Prior to releasing the contract, contact your district attorney to ensure any item that isn't public is redacted first. Following your attorney's review, check your district policy for additional guidelines regarding records requests, such as restrictions on where the contract must be viewed, if and how much an individual is charged for copies, etc. Iowa Code 22.7(11)(a)(1)
Q: Are regulations and exhibits within IASB sample policies legally required to be adopted, reviewed and revised?
281 Iowa Administrative Code sec. 12.3(2) requires that board policies list the date of adoption, review and revision for each policy. Regulations and exhibits in IASB sample policies are considered a part of what makes up that sample policy, and should go through the process of adoption, review and revision along with the policy they supplement. Regulations and exhibits are not free standing policies covered under 12.3(2), so they do not have a separate space listed for adoption, review and revision.
Q: How responsible is the board for the school calendar? We approve a calendar each school year, but whenever we have a snow day, it changes. Why do we even approve it at all?
While the board is responsible for approving and adopting the school calendar, according to Iowa Code 279.10
, it is meant to be a "big picture" of the year ahead. For example, the school start date, number of instructional days, etc. When there is an emergency, whether it's weather-related, a facilities issue, or something else entirely, the administration must act quickly and board approval is not necessary. The board has a governance responsibility to provide the overall supports for student learning—not the management responsibility of handling day-to-day operations. IASB offers a school calendar template
that can be customized to meet the needs of your district, located in the Policy & Legal Corner Toolbox on the IASB website.
Q: What contact information is required for each public school board member on a district website?
A: Iowa Code 70A.40
requires that within 30 days of board members taking their oath of office, the district must post a telephone number or an email address for each board member.
Q: My district plans to hold a game night with a charity raffle where we raffle off non-cash prizes. Do we need any special license to host this?
You may or may not need a license, but you certainly need approval from the state. If the raffle charges any money at all or consists of very small non-cash prizes, it may not need a license from the state, but it will still require approval. There are additional requirements listed within Chapter 99B of the Iowa Code.
Q: What should my board focus on to help guide board learning?
It’s a big benefit when boards focus their learning, as a whole board team, on governance level leadership. This includes learning to strengthen what the board knows and does in relation to areas such as: establishing a powerful vision and goals, providing leadership for the district’s efforts to improve instruction and ensure high levels of student learning, sustain and enhance district resources, and more. We encourage boards to use IASB's standards, based on best practice and research to learn about ways to maximize the board's leadership. The Standards for Effective School Boards
are designed as a common framework for excellence in school board governance and includes six standards that can help clarify the work of high-performing boards.
Q: Our district has community members who regularly provide public comment. Not all community members are aware of the requirements for public comment and do not realize that board members may not respond to the public comment speakers. This has led to growing community perception that because our board does not respond, we are unwilling to engage with the community. How can we communicate the requirements for public comment, clarify expectations and engage within the parameters of conducting public comment?
It is important that any restrictions placed on a public forum are both: content neutral, and applied evenly to all speakers. Districts should first look to their board policy to determine whether it is up to date and accomplishes these requirements. IASB recently updated our sample policies related to public comment at board meetings. Many districts have chosen to communicate the rules of their public forum to their community by including them with the board agenda, adding them to a speaker sign in sheet, or by reading the rules aloud prior to beginning public forum. It can be noted in the rules that board members are not permitted to respond to the speakers’ content, because it could violate the open meetings law, but that administration may choose to follow up with the speaker’s concerns after the meeting.
Q: What are the requirements for teacher contracts?
A: Iowa Code 279.13(1)(a) outlines five requirements for teacher contracts:
Contracts must be in writing;
- Contracts must be one year in length;
- Contracts must state the number of contract days;
- Contracts must include the annual compensation to be paid; and
- Contracts must include any other matters that are mutually agreed upon
Q: Can the superintendent hire custodians without board approval?
Yes, but only if the board adopts a policy authorizing the superintendent to do so. If that policy is adopted by the board, Iowa Code 279.20
permits the superintendent to hire support personnel. The policy must specify which positions the superintendent is authorized to fill.
Q: During online school registration, should parents upload birth certificates or copies of birth certificates onto the district's system to show proof of a child's age?
Only the state registrar's office may issue birth certificates, certified copies, or any copies. (Iowa Code 144.45(5)
). Parents may choose from a variety of documents to show proof of a child's age, including but not limited to a certified statement of a physician, and an immunization record listing the child's date of birth. If a parent wishes to use a birth certificate to verify age, the district should view the certificate in person, then return it to the parents. No copy should be made.