Schools should open meetings for local input

A first-grade classroom.
A first-grade classroom. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Emmanuel Dunand

Once a month, the principal of every NYC public school meets with an elected mix of parents, teachers and staff to evaluate the school’s education plan, discuss budgets and safety procedures, and address key issues.

In many ways, the School Leadership Team, or SLT, is the heart of a school. Its meetings are where triumphs and troubles are discussed, and where a school’s budget, plans and goals are established. But until recently, the meetings have been closed to the public and media. And even when some schools allowed other interested parents from that school to observe, those parents often hadn’t known that the meetings existed.

But in October, an appellate court ruled that SLT meetings are subject to the state’s Open Meetings Law. While the NYC Department of Education has provided some guidelines on what that means, city officials must make sure schools comply, and that parents and the public are aware of the right to attend.

This can be done via websites, newspapers, television and fliers. The DOE should develop a Web-based calendar of every SLT meeting, and a website that could link to each school’s SLT minutes from previous meetings. The minutes should be readily available — not just via a freedom of information request.

SLTs still will have the opportunity to go into closed-door sessions for matters that warrant privacy, such as personnel, internal investigations and school security. But meetings open to parents present an opportunity to evaluate our schools and add a layer of accountability and scrutiny. They give parents a chance to assess how schools are governed. And they could offer a way to share success models with schools that are failing and to evaluate best practices.

For years, the city fought to keep SLT meetings closed. The city won’t appeal the court ruling. Now officials must comply with the law, but also understand its spirit, and make the sessions what they should be: opportunities to see each school at work, and for people to get involved and learn.