Why do we have laws, and do laws matter if they aren’t enforced?
Imagine what would happen to society if the police decided to just ignore the law and didn’t bother enforcing it. Imagine if you could steal your neighbors car or murder the guy who cut you off on the way home, and the authorities charged with keeping the peace just shrugged and turned the other way. You might have a better car and no one would cut you off anymore, but how long would it take for our homes to become armed fortresses and anarchy to set in?
When it comes to ensuring the peace and protecting us from harm, it’s not difficult to understand why we have laws and why the police enforce them. But what about other laws, like those rules established to ensure that we aren’t taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals or overzealous governments? Laws like those which require us to have decks and improvements to our homes inspected to ensure that the improvements are safe, or laws which define how government entities must behave to protect us citizens from government employees abusing their power and our trust. What happens if those laws aren’t enforced?
From what I’ve seen local zoning and inspection laws are enforced pretty well. Same with car inspection and registration. That’s probably because zoning, inspection, and registration laws play a role in the taxes our state and local governments receive from us.
It’s the enforcement of laws established to protect us citizens from overreaching and unscrupulous government officials that have me concerned.
The General Assembly has delegated the authority for managing public schools in the Commonwealth to the state Board of Education (BOE) and VA Department of Education (VA DOE) through statutes and other rulings. More than half of the state and local taxes we pay go to the VA DOE and local school districts. The VA DOE is a state government entity and local school districts are their local arms.
The state BOE has delegated quite a bit of authority for managing the day to day operations of schools to local school districts and their elected school boards through policies and procedures. This is because Virginian’s generally prefer local control of public schools in their area.
The “rules” governing how the VA DOE and local school districts must behave are contained in the Virginia Administrative Code (VAC) in statutes, policies, and procedures which have the force of law. For instance, the state BOE has delegated the authority to select instructional materials to local school districts, provided they follow the textbook adoption procedures promulgated by the state BOE. These policies and procedures exist to protect the public and ensure that the public is aware of what principles underlie the recommendations the local district makes to the local school board.
So what’s the problem? Well, it appears that all of that is bogus.
I, and several other contributors to this site, have been told on multiple occasions by VA DOE employees that the “rules” governing local school districts aren’t relevant because there aren’t any provisions for enforcing them ; that local school districts are routinely advised by officials with the VA DOE to simply follow their local procedures, even if those local procedures didn’t comply with state law.
If the policies and procedures established by the State BOE governing local school districts aren’t enforced and are just blown off, then why have them at all? Why pretend to have laws and rules if they’re just going to be ignored?
From what I can tell, the rules, policies, and procedures contained in the VAC with regards to schools are nothing more than straw men. They may as well not exist because the VA DOE isn’t going to enforce them and doesn’t advise local school districts to follow them.
I can’t help but wonder how many of our elected Representatives are aware that the VA DOE disregards the policies and procedures promulgated by the State BOE. I suspect that, like me, many of them simply assume that local school districts follow state law and that the VA DOE advises them to do so. Too bad that’s an incorrect assumption.
It may sound silly and petty considering the problems in the world today to get so caught up with whether local school districts actually follow the laws they’re supposed to follow. But the thing is, those rules are there to protect me and my kids from school officials who are bound and determined to get their way no matter what. I can’t help but wonder who will protect me and my kids if the government entity tasked with enforcing the rules doesn’t bother.