Writing a Constitution and Bylaws

A student council constitution is a written document that sets forth the fundamental governing principles under which the council is organized and operates. To many people, the word “constitution” implies formality and intimidating rules and regulations. A constitution is simply a written set of rules for a group. The constitution defines the limits of authority of the organization and gives a sense of both order and purpose for conducting business. A student council’s constitution should be stated in simple, easily understood language and should include only essential items. The student council constitution should be developed in cooperation with school staff and the student body. Amendments should be simple and direct.

Bylaws are rules adopted by a group for its own meetings or affairs. Bylaws cover such areas as the number of members needed to constitute a quorum (enough members to vote on an issue or proposal); procedure for filling an office that has been vacated during the year; procedure of impeachment of delinquent members and officers.

The constitution/bylaws should be designed to help the council accomplish its goals. It must not be so difficult to follow that it hinders the effective functioning of the council. The constitution must be studied regularly and changed to stay vital and meaningful.

WRITING THE CONSTITUTION

Creating a constitution can be a difficult, time-consuming process. The following steps can take some of the hassle out of the process and ensure that your group develops a constitution that is an accurate reflection of its mission.

  1. Gather ideas and information from group members, faculty members, administrators, and constitutions from other organizations. At this stage, use a constitutions survey to gather ideas from your organization’s members.
  2. Review the gathered information. It can be tedious for a group of 25 members to pour over the information, so a smaller committee is recommended. You might want to have a constitution committee or a group of officers compile all of the information.
  3. Decide the basics of your constitution. Decide what your constitution will consist of. Think of broad, general topics at this point rather than specific rules and regulations. For example, you may decide that your constitution will outline the duties of officers, attendance policies, etc.
  4. Decide the basics for each part of the constitution. You don’t necessarily have to use complete sentences and ornate language. Rather, concentrate on putting down in writing of what each topic will consist. For example, list the duties of each officer.
  5. Edit the constitution. Smooth out the rough edges and write everything out in complete sentences. Use a dictionary and thesaurus to help select the right wording.
  6. Seek feedback. To make sure the constitution is clear and easy to understand, get the feedback of the entire organization. You might also seek feedback from the advisor, principal, English or journalism teacher (for clarity of writing), or other students who are not involved in the organization to get a fresh perspective.
  7. Ratify (vote to adopt) your constitution. Vote on each part of the constitution separately so members will know which parts they agree on so they can be adopted as is. The group will also know which parts need to be discussed further. If necessary, continue to edit the constitution until ratification is completed.
  8. Distribute copies of your constitution to all members, your advisor, faculty members, administrators, and any other interested students.

Suggested Elements of a Student Council Constitution

Writing a Constitution and Bylaws
Most student council constitutions do not have a preamble. The document contains the basic principles under which the council is organized and operated. Most constitution/by-laws follow a generally accepted form. First, most have articles. These articles follow a logical sequence and each discusses one broad area. Generally, the following topics are articles:

Article I Statement of the name of the organization
Article II The general purpose(s) of the group
Article III Powers vested in the organization; the right of veto by the principal
Article IV Definition of membership for the group; qualifications of membership; duties of membership
Article V Establishment of the time, methods, and procedures for nomination and election of members, officers, and advisors
Article VI Frequency of meetings and provisions for special sessions (may be omitted in the body of the constitution if included in the by-laws)
Article VII The duties and responsibilities of the organization, the officers, the members, and the advisor
Article VIII Method and procedure for ratification of the constitution
Article IX Provisions for amending the constitution

When it becomes necessary to discuss more than one topic in any one article, it is proper to number these and refer to them as sections. Each section also has a title for quick reference.

Example:

Article VII The duties and responsibilities of the organization, the officers, the members, and the advisor
Section 1: Organization Responsibilities
A. Conduct school elections
B. Organize homecoming activities
C. Etc.

Section 2: Officer Responsibilities
A. President
   1. Preside at all meetings
   2. Etc.

Suggested Elements of Student Council By-Laws
Article I Number of members needed to constitute a quorum (enough people to legally vote)
Article II Description of standing committees and provisions for the formation of special committees as the need arises
Article III Rules for conducting elections (if not included in the constitution body)
Article IV Procedure for filling an office that has been vacated
Article V Procedure for amending the by-laws
Article VI Parliamentary authority; definition of the parliamentary rules of order for conducting business