This post has nothing to do with SEO, but if you have any children, you may find it interesting (and potentially useful one day).
Recently our school board decided that it needed to move some attendance zones around to new schools in order to balance the numbers for each better (so that some are not over-crowded while others are under-capacity).
Now, no one ever likes to change schools for the most part. But in our particular case, the recommendation of the school board for us to be moved was seriously flawed.
First, our development only has one road in and one road out (and our current school is on the intersection at the end of that road). In order to get to the new school they wanted to send us to, we’d have to drive right past our current school and continue on for an extra two miles.
The traffic at the intersection of our current school is already horrid, with two children having been hit in the last two months. Moving us would have made the traffic significantly worse. That was the number one concern of my community when we’d initially fought the rezoning.
We went to the initial meeting after it was suggested that our community be moved, presented our case and they changed the recommendation to leave us where we were. Then, less that 24 business hours before the final vote, the recommendation was suddenly changed at 6 pm on a Friday night, putting us back on “the block” for being moved (mainly because the attendance zone they’d decided to move instead of ours had fought back hard to stay) with the final vote to be held the following Monday evening.
My neighborhood had less than 72 hours (which included only one business day) to fight back. I immediately searched Google trying to find information about how to fight the school board and how to arrange a school board protest. But all I could find were articles relating to news stories of protest wins or losses after they occurred. Nothing about the “how” of actually doing it.
So, I’ve decided to share what I learned during the process in hopes that it might help some other parents out there in the future.
Before You NEED to Protest
Get a Community Facebook Group Going
If you don’t yet have a Facebook group for your community, make one – before you “need” it. We were lucky that a member of our community had created a Facebook Group for us a while back and over a year+ we’d accumulated 80+ members to it. I don’t know that we’d have been able rally our neighborhood as fast as we were able to without it.
Attend EVERY Meeting Leading Up to the Decision
As I mentioned above, when we were initially nominated to be moved, we immediately rallied and attended the next meeting and as a result we were removed from the recommendation (meaning we would stay where we were). So we didn’t attend the next meeting. But the attendance zone that had been nominated to take our place did. That was a big mistake on our part and we now know that we need to be at EVERY meeting involving zoning changes even if we’re not being mentioned as a potential move – because that could change at ANY time and we need to be there to launch immediate opposition if and when it does.
Once You Need to Protest
However, hindsight is always 20/20. We were on the block. The recommendation was “final” (meaning they were not open to discussion on changing it anymore) and the school board would be voting the next business day. If we had any chance of staying, we had to protest. So protest we did.
The Petition Drive
I downloaded a petition template for Microsoft Word, and edited it to reflect our specific situation. I purchased multiple clip boards and a box of pens. I also created a flyer with all the pertinent details about the potential move, including the details of the meeting where the school board would vote on the recommendation. We also included a link to our Facebook Group URL because we need many community members were likely unaware of it. We posted on our Facebook Group that we needed parents to help us go door to door in our community to get them signed.
Almost 20 parents showed up the next morning and we walked the neighborhood for 3 hours gathering signatures, handing out flyers and explaining the importance of needing every parent possible at the meeting two days later. If someone wasn’t home, we left them a flyer. We ended up gathering a total of 258 signatures in that three hour petition drive in addition to creating awareness about the potential zoning change with many parents who had no idea that the situation was even occurring.
The Information Packet
Next, I decided to create an information packet to explain “our side” to the school board. The packet included a letter to the school board written by one of my neighbors and contained information about each “bullet point” of why we shouldn’t be moved – explained in depth.
One thing to remember when fighting the school board, especially on a rezoning change, is that the school board often doesn’t “know” things you and your community take for granted. For instance, as I mentioned, the traffic at the school intersection is already dangerous and was our number one objection to being rezoned. But, as much as we felt “Anyone could see that!” the fact was that the school board had never been AT that intersection at 8:15 am on a weekday morning.
Saying “there’s bad traffic” wouldn’t have near the impact of them actually seeing it. So we showed it to them in the information packet with pictures taken the morning of the vote:
I’d bet that even with me saying “bad traffic” above, you couldn’t quite get a feel for how bad it actually is until you saw the above pictures showing the chaos. “Show” them your points if at all possible in the packet.
Make sure you also find out the points of the opposition if possible and poke the holes you know exist through them. Many school boards have criteria for a zoning change of what they can consider and what they can’t consider. As an example, length of time at the school is not a valid argument against a zoning change in our district. We are a new development and the other area up for rezoning was using their length of time at the school as a primary argument as to why they should stay (and as a result, we should go). Our packet reminded them that it was not a valid point of contention according to the district rules.
I then personalized each packet with a cover sheet that addressed each school board member by name. I put each packet in a “report cover” with a clear front and included copies of our petition. Be sure to check with your local school board on delivery rules. You may have to mail the packets vs. dropping them off in person. Check the proper delivery method and then make sure they get delivered.
Knowing local media would be attending the meeting, I also made several additional packets for the media (including the media contacts for our group) to be able to hand out to any reporters that I encountered during the meeting. We also made the packet available online on the domain I’d purchased that morning for the King Lakes Neighbors Group.
Contacting the Media
With our information packets complete, we set out to contact the media. You’d be surprised how many local media personalities have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. You can use Muckrack to find them on Twitter and use searches to find them on Facebook (search the TV station names and call letters). Most news outlets also have tip forms on their websites you can fill out. We had multiple parents send each reporter tips about the story and included a link to our downloadable information packet.
The Morning of the “Vote”
I’d created a large poster-board sign reminding parents that the vote was happening that night and to stop and sign the petition if they hadn’t already. Myself and another mom stood of the main corner of our development that morning during the time parents were taking their kids to school. I held the sign while she got new signatures and handed out more flyers with the school board meeting details. After an hour, we’d obtained more petition signatures (bringing our total to 279 for a development with 301 houses – all of which are not even occupied yet) and had several new parents commit to showing up at the meeting.
Next it was time to create signs. While many school board meetings don’t allow them inside, the school board members often enter the front of the building and will see your signs. Additionally, if the media representatives you contacted do end up coming out, they will see them as well (and they often make good photos to include in an article). Additionally, I can almost guarantee you that any opposition will have them. Myself and a group of three other moms made 21 signs that afternoon to pass out to community members as they showed up to the meeting that evening.
Attending the Meeting
Bring LARGE Numbers and Look as Unified as Possible
I bought name tags and wrote nothing but our attendance zone number on them for each parent to wear. We handed each parent a sign as they arrived. We sat and stood together in large groups all around the room once we got inside the meeting room so we were visible every direction that you looked.
Show Up Early
We asked every parent that could to show up an hour and a half before the meeting began. We took up a side of the building entrance and displayed our signs. We’d told parents to look at the bios of school board members before coming so they would recognize them as they entered the building and we made an effort to politely and calmly talk to as many as possible as they walked in.
Speaking at the Meeting
Most meetings allow an open forum time frame for people to be able to address the board. We told our parents that we needed as many of them as possible to sign up to speak because we knew the other side would be doing the same. The way our district worked it was that they split the 30 minute open forum time between however many speakers signed up. In our case, that was 26 people – which gave us each 1 minute and 15 seconds to speak.
One thing I noticed was many people wasted 20 seconds of their time saying hello to the various board members or thanking them for the opportunity to speak. Don’t waste your time. Start immediately on your points after introducing yourself. They don’t need every person to tell them how esteemed they are and “kissing ass” isn’t likely to sway you any votes because they know that’s exactly why you’re spending time complimenting them. If you have multiple people speaking, having a bullet list of points to address so that each point is addressed at some point by a member is a good thing to do.
Also, when the leader of our neighborhood group stood up to speak during his turn, he asked all the members of our attendance zone to stand. Thanks to all our efforts, we were more than half the room, outnumbering the opposition by about 2-1. I think it made a powerful impression.
Funnily enough, by random luck, I was the last person to speak regarding the school rezoning debate. If you’ve ever seen me speak, you know that I talk fast and because of that, I was able to get a lot across despite the short time frame I was given.
In our particular case, the zoning recommendation we were opposing was passed with a 5-1 vote. With one exception – that our attendance zone remain unchanged. We’d won the battle to keep our kids at their current school, though I’m almost positive we’re not done fighting the war and I fully expect to have to go through this again next year as the board’s decision to keep us all at the same school puts our school over capacity and both communities are growing. But we’ll take it. ;-)
I don’t claim to be the end all expert on running a school board protest. This was the first one I’d ever organized. I’m sure there were things we could have done better, especially if we’d had more time. But I figured other parents may find the steps we took – which amounted to positive results for us – to be helpful if they ever have to organize one of their own.