Parliamentary Procedure for Beginners

As a PTA leader, you probably know that you are supposed to use parliamentary procedure in your meetings, but looking at the more than 800 pages of Robert’s Rules of Orderin the PTA materials the previous PTA president passed on to you might have you thinking, “Really?” Yes, really, but parliamentary procedure isn’t nearly as scary or intimidating as that copy of Robert’s Rules of Ordermake it appear. Here are the basics you need to know as a PTA leader.

Why Parliamentary Procedure?

Henry Martin Robert was a military engineer in the US Army. In the early 1860s while recovering from a tropical fever he had caught in Panama, he was asked to chair a meeting at his local Baptist Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The meeting did not go well, erupting into open conflict over abolition, and Col. Robert decided he needed to understand parliamentary procedure better before leading another meeting.

In looking at the existing manuals of parliamentary procedure, he found them to be often useless or in conflict with each other. He continued to attend meetings that ran out of control, and the guidelines each group was using were poorly written and often contributed to the chaos and rancor. So Col Robert set out to write his own rules for parliamentary procedure.

Robert’s basic premise behind his set of rules was that the voice of the minority be heard, but that the will of the majority prevail. The rules aim to keep the meeting attendees focused on the matter at hand and help them make decisions. The rules are also more important to follow as the size of the meeting gets bigger in order have business proceed smoothly, which is why you’ll see parliamentary procedure used much more formally at the Illinois PTA Convention than in most PTA meetings. As a PTA leader, if you remember that parliamentary procedure is there to make sure all voices are heard and to help your meeting run smoothly, you can avoid some of the nitty gritty details that might get in the way of those goals.

Basic Principles

When using parliamentary procedure, these are the basic principles to keep in mind:

  • Only one issue is discussed at a time.
  • The chairperson is impartial. (That means that as PTA president, you are running the meeting, not influencing the debate.)
  • All members have equal and basic rights to vote, to be heard, and to oppose.
  • The rights of the minority must be protected.
  • No one can speak until recognized by the chairperson.
  • Every member can speak to an issue, but no one can speak a second time as long as another member wants to speak for the first time.
  • A majority vote decides an issue (in all but a few special situations).

The Agenda

As PTA president, you are responsible for preparing the agenda for your PTA meeting and ensuring that it is followed. It is always a good practice to ask your fellow PTA officers, committee chairpersons, and membership if they have items for the agenda. Once the agenda is prepared, distribute it to your members prior to the meeting.

The typical order of business on an agenda is as follows:

  • Call to Order
  • Approval of the Minutes
  • Reports from Officers and Committees
  • Unfinished Business (from previous meetings)
  • New Business
  • Announcements
  • Adjournment

Note that in order to conduct business, you must have a quorum. The quorum for your PTA meetings are listed in your PTA’s bylaws for general membership meetings, executive board meetings, and executive committee meetings. Without a quorum, no official decisions can be made.

Motions

Motions are how business gets done in a meeting, and requires two people—a “mover” and a “seconder.” Motions coming from committees do not require a second, because the body has essentially already seconded the issue by referring it to the committee.

Strictly following Robert’s Rules, a motion must be made and seconded before any discussion of the issue can begin. However, as chair, you can decide to depart from strict parliamentary procedure and allow discussion to occur before the motion is made. This is often done to get opinions from the body so a more precise motion can be made and time isn’t wasted tweaking the wording of a motion. However, if you use this approach, it is important to make sure that the discussion does not wander from the issue being discussed. As chair, it is your job to keep the discussion focused.

After discussion, vote on the motion that has been made and seconded before moving on to the next item of business. A motion must receive a majority of votes to be approved (with some specific exceptions like approving bylaws amendments, which require a two-thirds majority). If there are an even number of votes, which means that the motion must receive 50% of the votes plus one. A motion that is tied is not approved. The secretary should record the exact wording of the motion in the minutes and whether it was approved or not. The secretary does not have to record all of the discussion on the motion.

Debating Motions

When chairing a meeting, it is your responsibility to ensure that the discussion sticks to the issue being debated. Don’t hesitate to bring the group back to the issue if you feel the conversation is wandering off topic. Everyone has been in that meeting where the chair didn’t do so, and the meeting dragged on and on without coming to decisions.

Make sure that everyone is recognized by the chair before speaking. This will help you control the meeting and keep the discussion focused. Make sure that everyone who wants to speak has the opportunity to do so. If as chair you sense that the discussion has come to consensus, don’t hesitate to state what you are hearing as the group’s decision and then ask if they are ready to vote.

You may have a member “call the question,” which is an attempt to end debate and vote on the motion that is on the floor. As part of Robert’s Rules to protect the voice of the minority, a motion to “close debate” or “move the previous question” requires a two-thirds majority to pass. If it does, then you move to vote on the motion on the floor without any further discussion.

Note that discussions can get out of hand and run long. As chair, you can keep the debate moving by making sure everyone has the opportunity to speak once before anyone can speak a second time. If necessary, the group may also vote to limit the amount of time any one person can speak or limit the amount of time for debate on the issue. Since the group imposes those time limits on itself, it can also extend those times by voting to do so.

Amending Motions

Under strict parliamentary procedure, your meeting body will change the motion on the floor by amending it by:

  • Inserting extra wording to the motion
  • Striking existing wording in the motion
  • Striking some wording and inserting additional wording to the motion

In practice, as chair you may allow informal amendments to be made to clarify the wording, provided the maker of the motion accepts the recommendation.

The Role of the Chairperson

When strictly following Robert’s Rules of Order, the chairperson does not participate in debate, and if they want to do so, they must temporarily give up the role of presiding officer until the motion on the floor is voted on. The chairperson also does not vote on a motion. The reason behind these rules is that the chairperson is supposed to be impartial while controlling the meeting. There are some exceptions to these rules.

  • The chairperson can vote if their vote will either make or break a tie. Remember that a tie vote on a motion means that it is not adopted.
  • The chairperson can vote if the vote is by ballot.
  • If the group is small (e.g., a committee) and operates informally, it is okay for the chair to participate in debate and vote.
  • If the members of the group have been chosen to represent specific areas, groups, or interests, the chairperson may participate in debate and vote so their constituency is represented properly.
  • For executive boards, executive committees, and standing or special committees, the chair may have the same privileges as other members to make motions, debate issues, and vote.

Keep in mind that if you as chair decide to participate in debate, you should not abuse the privilege and should avoid dominating the discussion. After having taken a side, it is vitally important that the chair continue to run the meeting impartially.

Help Your Child Spring Ahead

Illinois PTA has often highlighted the resourcesand researchdone by Learning Heroes. As the annual state assessment, now known as the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR), approaches, Learning Heroes has released a new resource for families called Spring Ahead.

Spring Ahead provides tools and information to help families support their child as they get ready for the annual state assessment. Among the resources are:

There is also a send-home PDF flyer in both English and Spanishthat summarizes the Spring Ahead information and directs families to the Learning Heroes website. Help your child Spring Aheadby visiting the site today.

E-Cigarette Update

When Illinois PTA first shared information about e-cigarette use among adolescents in 2014, we noted that use had more than doubled from 3.3% to 6.8% from 2011 to 2012. Today, the use of e-cigarettes or Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) has risen to nearly 15% in 2018. The growth in the use of ENDS comes at a time when adolescents are smoking traditional tobacco products and using smokeless tobacco at significantly lower rates than in recent years. This growth was one of the contributing factors to Illinois PTA’s adoption of a Resolution on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) at the 2018 Illinois PTA Convention.

One of the reasons for this increase is that ENDS are presented as safer than traditional cigarettes. This is true, but as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, cigarettes are extraordinarily dangerous products that kill approximately half of the people who use them regularly. And while ENDS are suggested as having a potential benefit for adults looking to quit smoking cigarettes, they are not considered safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.

Another reason for increased use is believed to be Juul, a brand of ENDS that looks similar to a USB flash drive that has so dominated the market that vaping is now often referred to as “Juuling” among youth. The pods used in Juul products have come in “kid-appealing” flavors like candy and fruit in the past, and surveys have shown these flavors are the primary reason for the use of ENDS among youth. As the Food and Drug Administration moved to regulate ENDS use, Juul announced it was suspending in-store sales of such flavors. Education Week created a video aimed at teachers (but also useful for parents) on how to detect Juul use in the classroom.

 

The health concerns with ENDS starts with nicotine, a highly addictive chemical present in most ENDS liquid pods that are inserted into the ENDS and vaporized. Nicotine has been shown to harm adolescent brain development, and its concentration in ENDS pods is often the equivalent to the nicotine in one or two packs of cigarettes. Nicotine in high concentrations is toxic, and as ENDS use has increased, so has the rate of nicotine poisonings in the US, increasing from only 269 in 2011 to 3,137 in 2018.

But nicotine is not the only chemical of concern in the ENDS vapor that is inhaled and exhaled. Youth often cite ENDS as being “safe” and the vapor inhaled as only “water,” but other substances that have been found in ENDS vapor include heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead; ultrafine particles; carcinogens; and flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease. While the number of harmful chemicals in ENDS vapor is fewer than those in cigarette smoke, ENDS are by no means safe for use.

Resources for Families

Photo © 2016 by Mylesclark96under Creative Commons license.

Make Your School a Healthy One with Game On

Action for Healthy Kids, who will be presenting at the 2019 Illinois PTA Convention, has created a flexible online program to helps schools become healthier environments for students, staff, and the communities they serve. The free Game On program focuses on both eating better and moving more. An online guide walks you through how to get organized and make a difference at your child’s school. There are also $1,000 grants available(application deadline April 5, 2019) to support implementing Game On at your school.

The Game On online guide makes it easy to implement the program, spelling out how to implement each of the six steps.

  1. Gather Your Team
  2. Assess and Track Progress
  3. Create and Implement an Action Plan
  4. Find Activities
  5. Engage Families and Communities
  6. Receive Recognition

The program aligns with the components of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Childmodel and has proven results. Using the Game On program, 74% of schools met all of their school district wellness policy requirements within three years.

Check out the Game On program, apply for a grant by April 5, 2019, and be sure to attend the Action for Healthy Kids workshop at the Illinois PTA Convention in Champaign on May 3-4, 2019.

Photo courtesy of pngimg.com under Creative Commons license.