School Board Censure

By Edwin C. Darden

School board members around the nation are admired for their outspoken ways and no-holds-barred defense of sincere beliefs. But sometimes verbal sparring goes too far and triggers a back draft. The collective disapproval of peers --  in this case, fellow board members --  can be communicated via a censure, a reprimand, removal from board posts, or another authorized rebuke.

The offending official usually responds in one of two ways: accept getting burned or fan the flame via legal or administrative proceedings. School boards have a legal or policy right, and sometimes both, to police their own. But members have options in how to go about it.

The scolding can happen informally, such as when the board president or trusted ally takes the person aside for a conversation. Another discreet alternative: Several board members (but not a quorum) perform a private “intervention.”

When admonishment happens formally, however, it usually means the behavior was so egregious or well-publicized that board colleagues feel that a public response is warranted. Formal actions are rare and titillating, and they inevitably spark citizen and media interest. Public shaming also could generate a lawsuit. 

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