Parents file lawsuit against school board to unravel gridlock preventing children from returning to school

Two Howard County parents have filed a lawsuit today against the Board of Education of Howard County because a voting seat on the Board is held by a high school student, which violates Maryland’s Constitution. In the past three Board votes, the student member of the Board has cast the tying vote to gridlock the Board, preventing it from returning 58,000 Howard County students to school.

The Howard County Board of Education has seven members elected by legal, registered, adult voters, and one student member, who is elected by children in grades 6 through 11. The student member has binding voting rights on nearly every decision made by the Board.

The Board has recently reached a gridlock on several decisions regarding returning children to in person instruction. Traci Spiegel and Kimberly Ford, both of whom have children in virtual learning in Howard County, have filed suit to enjoin the student member vote and declare the provisions allowing the student member to have a vote in violation of Maryland’s Constitution.

The Maryland Constitution entitles only those citizens who are 18 years of age and older to a vote in local elections and forbids anyone who is not a registered voter from holding an elected office. Student members of the Board are high school juniors or seniors who are afforded nearly the same amount of power as their elected adult counterparts, and the existence of such a position violates both of these mandates.

Traci Spiegel, a parent of two Howard County students, explained her reason for filing this lawsuit: “These are complicated times, but this is a simple issue. The Howard County Board of Education is gridlocked. When I started watching the meetings and saw every key vote ending in 4-4 ties with no progress, I was in complete shock. When I found out one of the members was a senior in high school, casting stalemate votes as a minor, grinding our school system to a halt, I knew I had to do something.” Ms. Spiegel further explains her frustration with “stalemate votes of 4-4 and making motions to throw out previously approved metrics and to not revisit metrics 5 and 7 months out is irresponsible. We are filing this suit because their failure to use metrics and common sense is suffocating our children.”

Kim Ford, parent of two Howard County students, explains her reason for joining the case: “I manage over 100 people in my job. I’m expected to produce results. Why isn’t the Board of Education expected to produce a plan? My children, along with 58,000 other children, are waiting for a plan by our school system, a plan that provides a choice for virtual and in-person education. I want a plan and I want a choice. The dysfunction of the Board is not acceptable anymore.”

Ms. Spiegel and Ms. Ford are represented by Anthony Conti, a local attorney and parent of four Howard County public school students.

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See the full details of the press release and lawsuit here: CLICK HERE

Scott E

21 COMMENTS

      • This is in no way frivolous. Our children are suffering and our BOE basically refuses to even have a discussion about bringing kids back
        when it is safe. The SMOB should NOT have a vote on these serious issues. I’m so thankful these parents are doing this!

        • Just because you don’t think the SMOB should have a vote doesn’t make the lawsuit valid. You can’t just sue whenever you don’t like a validly passed law. The SMOB has voting rights by act of the Maryland General Assembly. If you want to change the law, go to the legislature and get the law passed. It’s sad how little understanding of civics some people have.

          • Separate schools for black children was a “validly passed law,” too. That didn’t make them constitutional. The argument here is one of constitutionality. So, yes, a lawsuit would be the correct legal avenue to address the issue.

          • You get that the general assembly hell even congress, have all passed laws that when challenged by someone in court have many times been found to be unconstitutional right ? I get it you like that the SMOB is following what you want to see happen so you are all for it. But what about when the next one is a far right student that doesn’t agree with your stance?
            Also FYI the student is not simply picked fairly by his or her fellow students, in fact the 2 students that get to be voted on are picked by a HCPSS admins and we all know just how fair and balanced they are (can you pick up on my sarcasm?) If this was truly a fair election ALL students could apply and run in a primary and then the 2 top would run in a general. Also ALL students could vote not just 6-12.
            Lastly we have age’s for many things in fact we just raised the age to buy tobacco to 21 correct ? we did this smartly because we know at 16 or even 18 that kids are not grown enough to make the right choices yet. We are the parents sure the kids should get a voice and have the ability to speak at every meeting (i think we should even have a speak out where students are encouraged to speak at every meeting ) however in the end its us parents and adults that should be making the final decision.
            One last thing, I have seen many claim well the SMOB was around for years why just now are folks upset, and saying its only cause of the votes from the current SMOB. What you are missing is that many many many parents have not paid any attention to the BOE or SMOB till fall of 2019 when the crazy redistricting plan came out and then even more so in the spring with COVID. Should they have paid attention more before this sure but they didn’t. Had they been I would bet many would have acted sooner.

          • It seems that you’re the one who lacks an understanding of civics. Getting a law changed in the legislature is one course of action if you don’t agree with a law. Challenging it in court if you believe it violates the constitution is another. That is what is happening here. It’s a perfectly valid course of action to take if they feel that the law establishing the SMOB violates the state constitution. I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with them; it’s a tough call. But they have at the very least a reasonable argument that the SMOB is an elected official, and the MD constitution says elected officials must be over 18 and be registered voters.

        • 1.) Exact reference to codified act, please; and 2) Not so simple to “go to legislature and get the law passed. One often needs to raise public awareness and develop public consensus. You may not like it, but a law suit is one, quick way to do this, me thinks.

  1. These parents are heroes. I feel terrible for the SMOB, as there is no child who has the maturity or the experience to make decisions of the magnitude that affects tens of thousands of people in serious, life altering ways. I’m worried he will come out of this experience with PTSD. It is not right to expect a child to bear the stress and responsibility of these decisions that few adults would be able to handle. I hope the lawsuit is successful and the SMOB can move forward in a more advisory role with less potentially traumatic responsibility.

  2. These parents are ticked off because they haven’t been able to “get their way” so now they are USING and ABUSING a young adult to do it. How low can some people in this county go? This young adult (SMOB) is a representative FOR the student body of HCPSS and advocates FOR positions/beliefs that are important to the students within the school system. Students have a right to speak out about issues in their primary place of existence outside of the home. This lawsuit is NOT about his vote on a return to FTF instruction and reopening the schools(because education is happening!!!)….it’s about his representation of what the student body wants to see happen within the school system. Attacking a student (young adult) is the lowest form of dirty politics. KARMA folks!…..it won’t be pretty when it rears it’s ugly head.

    • No one is attacking the SMOB. How is it use and abuse? I believe it’s more abusive to put the SMOB in a position to vote like an adult. Not sure it’s low at all. In fact, it is important that the SMOB does not carry such a burden. The SMOB should ONLY be advisory and representative, NOT with voting rights. Students can speak out about issues. Education is NOT happening. The current online learning is a JOKE! Many students are just avatars on the screen. They are not present during class, they pass no matter what, and the level of challenge is almost ridiculous. Is your last line a threat to people who disagree with you? Again, NO ONE is attacking the SMOB. He simply does not legally have the right to vote (according the the MD state constitution) and should not be able to affect tens of thousands of votes – he’s a kid with an undeveloped brain.

  3. Clearly these parents can’t articulate their positions well before the board so they are hiring an over priced lawyer to do it for them through the courts. What’s ironic is the individual filing the suit makes a living in marketing! Maybe these parents should continue to engage the process available to them already? I think we should all agree the democratic process should be preserved and we should encourage our kids to have a voice in that process. To challenge a students participation and voice being represented on the Board is undemocratic and the opposite of what we should be teaching our kids. I value their voice and it should be heard.

  4. Giving students a voice and a vote on the Howard County Board of Education benefits students and the school system at large. That representation, however, should be established through proper procedures. The Maryland Constitution clearly requires voters to be at least 18 years of age, yet the law establishing the student member position on the Howard County BOE establishes a process whereby that representative is elected by the votes of sixth to eleventh graders. As such, the court should strike the present law down and state lawmakers should subsequently pass a constitutional amendment allowing for the selection or election of student members of locals BOEs and send it to voters for ratification.

  5. No one is attacking the SMOB. How is it use and abuse? I believe it’s more abusive to put the SMOB in a position to vote like an adult. Not sure it’s low at all. In fact, it is important that the SMOB does not carry such a burden. The SMOB should ONLY be advisory and representative, NOT with voting rights. Students can speak out about issues. Education is NOT happening. The current online learning is a JOKE! Many students are just avatars on the screen. They are not present during class, they pass no matter what, and the level of challenge is almost ridiculous. Is your last line a threat to people who disagree with you? Again, NO ONE is attacking the SMOB. He simply does not legally have the right to vote (according the the MD state constitution) and should not be able to affect tens of thousands of votes – he’s a kid with an undeveloped brain.

  6. The student representative is one of the few speaking with reason. He stated that the positivity rates in the county would fluctuate over the winter which might result in the repeated opening and closing of schools. He stated that might be more disruptive than continued virtual learning. Indeed, this week the rate is up above 5%, which was the criteria for discontinuing hybrid learning and going back to completely virtual learning, if the schools had reopened.
    The state, indeed the entire country, is in the middle of a surge of COVID cases. We don’t know what is going to happen this winter. This is an unfortunate circumstance, but public health has to come before all. A few parents and a lawyer do not know more than the public health professionals. They do not know more than the healthcare professionals risking their lives working the hospitals to care for the COVID patients that do need assistance. Those few parents out in Western Howard county can make the relatively small sacrifice in comparison to find assistance for their childrens’ education until things get back to somewhere reasonable and manageable from a public health point of view. We all want our children back in school. We want it done safely. The vaccine is coming. It won’t be that much longer. In the meantime, wear your masks, social distance, stay home, and get the rates down to stay. They are having parties without masks in China, Australia, and New Zealand!

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