The Maryland Court of Appeals has graciously agreed to decide this important issue on Tuesday November 9th.
School Boards are governmental bodies that make impactful policy decisions such as, ‘should teachers be mandated to get vaccines’, ‘what are the quarantine policies’, ‘should police officers be in schools’? These issues have long-term consequences and in Howard County, a minor student is a member of the school board (SMOB) and has the right to decide policies for 56,000 other children.
As taxpayers and parents of children in the Howard County system, we’ve asked the Court to decide whether this should be able to continue.
In 2020, there were three major decisions the Howard County SMOB played a deciding role on policy. On the 3rd day of school, the SMOB made a motion to completely remove SROs and cancel all exams. His votes also contributed to the shutdown of the entire system of in-person instruction. This placed Maryland at the bottom of the country for percentage of students receiving in-person education.
This occurred when Howard County had one of the lowest COVID transmission rates regionally and nationally. Neighboring counties had nearly identical transmission rates, but opened their schools. Because the Howard County BOE grid-locked all reopening votes of any scenario, Governor Hogan stepped in to mandate hybrid reopening on March 1st 2021.
Fast forward to this school year, and let’s look at transmission rates, the results of no exam data and review the need for police in schools. We are now open with little significant increase in community transmission of COVID, but the children in Howard County lost an entire year-and-a-half of quality education. Also the impact of no exam data from last year has burdened our already stretched teaching staff to adequately place students. And one of our Howard County schools had an issue of a threat of a school shooting, calling into question the effort of the SMOB to completely remove school resource officers.
All of this makes us ask a simple question, should minors be able to make such major policy decisions?
And let’s review what happens when the HoCo SMOB gets to vote on a policy issue…there are 8 members of the Howard County BOE. When the SMOB is able to vote, 5 votes are needed to pass the motion. This is called a super-majority and motions must pass at 5-3. So the mere presence of the SMOB means a motion has to have MORE members voting ‘yea’ than if the adults on the BOE were the only members voting.
Other states, and other counties, provide students with a ‘voice’ on school boards, but no other state gives a student a binding vote. And in Maryland, only 25% of the counties in Maryland give a student a binding vote. Why does HoCo have a binding vote for their SMOB? What is the reason? For a student to have a voice? Or for a student to be manipulated to further a specific policy? Aren’t there rules in our society about influencing children? And what about the fact that the SMOB is a minor, on a state governmental body?
The Maryland Constitution states in order to hold elected office you must be 18 and a registered voter. You must also be elected by adult registered voters. Currently the Howard County SMOB is a minor, elected by 11-17 year-old-children, with the power to cast policy votes for a school system with an annual budget in excess of $980 million dollars.
Whether you agree with the SMOB’s vote (last year we didn’t agree with any of his votes, and this year do like the SMOB’s voting tendency) we still feel common sense should prevail. We believe having a non-tax-paying minor make policy for a billion dollar school system doesn’t seem to make common sense.
We are extremely grateful Maryland’s highest Court has decided to hear this case, and look forward to a ruling on an issue that has had, and will continue to have, an impact on our children’s education.
-Traci Spiegel & Kim Ford, parents of four Howard County children.
A student representative should provide opinions to represent students, but leave voting to the adults.