Re: Assembly question

Mike Sadofsky (mike@ultranet.com)
Mon, 23 Sep 1996 20:03:14 GMT

On Sun, 22 Sep 1996 15:06:22 +0000, Mickey Howell asked about the powers and
duties of the Sudbury Valley School Assembly. As someone who has been a member
of that group through the history of the school and currently chairs that body,
I'll reply and offer my perspective for what they may be worth.

The powers of the Assembly must be interpreted in the context of the entire
document, a charter statement that includes a legal statement of the purpose of
the school as well as formal descriptions of each of its constituent bodies and
their roles, powers, duties, and any limits thereupon. I am not trained in the
law, but it is clear that the by-laws do not provide the Assembly with the power
to infringe on the powers and duties of the School Meeting.

But the issues Mickey raises are important.

Why should there be an Assembly at all? Why shouldn't the School Meeting
conduct all of the business of the School and make all of its decisions? One
answer is the practical issue. Whether they take advantage of their vote and
opportunity to participate or not, parents who are willing to send a child to a
school where self directed learning and democratic governance are the rule,
still enjoy the opportunity to debate and vote on policy and financial matters.
In fact, I would not want to risk the life of the school in an environment where
"those who pay the bills" were denied such opportunity.

Risks of determined groups attempting to undermine the model is something we all
live with all the time in many different aspects of our lives. In most of them,
we have little power. At least in the School we have an opportunity to debate
and vote. And that is where the strength of the democratic model proves itself.
It is very unlikely that significant numbers of people will get involved in a
school like SVS without some level of understanding and acceptance of the
philosophy and the model. So over time one or more might say, "gee, I think
this would be a better school if: there were classes offered in the 3 R's....the
staff took a more direct role in encouraging kids to pursue academics.....tests
were administered so we'd know how the school stacks up next to others..... and
so forth and so on. You can generate your own ideas of what people might
suggest. The best place and way to deal with this is in debate in the Assembly,
not by restructuring the bylaws to deny parents the forum in which to discuss
their concerns.

Sudbury Valley School's Assembly has debated issues of this nature and of
smoking and computer games and videos and ...... It has never passed any
directive that would infringe on the School Meeting's role of managing daily
school affairs. I can't imagine it ever doing so. If my memory serves me
correctly, there have been instances in which the School Meeting asked the
Assembly to suggest policy and practice on matters the School Meeting felt would
be better dealt with by the larger body. The School Meeting was then able to
factor these debates and recommendations into its subsequent action.

Just to wrap this up, my feeling is that the Assembly and the Trustees duties
and responsibilities deal with the long term integrity and well being of the
School. And the School Meeting limits itself to operating the school within the
guidelines of the policies and financial constraints generated by the Assembly.
Should either of these parties infringe on the powers of the other, we'd have an
issue to resolve. Fortunately. open debate and a strong record of documentation
has avoided such conflict.

Like every institution, your school, or at least some members of your Assembly,
will go through periods of doubt, confusion, concern, .... while the school gets
established, builds a track record, and serves the needs of its students and the
community they live in. I don't think it's at all possible to avoid the
potential for divergent views and ideas by structuring your by-laws one way or
the other. Like contracts, such documents exist in order to provide mechanisms
to resolve issues when they become conflicting. I'd take advantage of the
history and experience of SVS and similar schools, and put my energy into
getting the school started, rather than looking for ways to refine the
structure.

Mike