For a moment, a Maryland delegate had students worried they would lose their voting voice on several school boards.
Earlier in this legislative session, Delegate Reid Novotny introduced House Bill 629, which would have cancelled the votes of student board members when their votes were the deciding vote on any board motion or action item.
Currently, Maryland has 24 public school districts or local education agencies, and they are based in the state’s counties. Nineteen of them have elected school boards, four have combined hybrid school boards made up of some elected and some appointed members, and one school board consists entirely of appointed members.
Seven local boards of education have one voting student member:
- Baltimore City
- Anne Arundel County
- Baltimore County
- Harford County
- Howard County
- Montgomery County (students report from Richard Montgomery H.S. in Rockville)
- Prince George’s County
Student board members generally can’t cast a vote for every matter. They may not be able to vote on employee discipline or capital budget matters, for example. But in Howard County, the student board member is allowed to cast a vote on school closures and reopenings during the pandemic.
A vote to reopen the district’s 77 schools for hybrid learning was called earlier this year, and the board’s seven elected members and one student were tied 4-4, with the student member, Howard High School senior Zach Koung, voting to keep schools virtual.
In other words, if Mr Koung’s vote didn’t count, schools would have been set to reopen sooner. But because of the tie, the board took no action and left the existing plan to open on April 1 in place.
The district has since reversed course, calling for the resumption of some hybrid learning by March, a result of Gov Larry Hogan’s call to get students back in classrooms.
Mr Novotny introduced his legislation on what seemed to be weak constitutional grounds, which might have paralyzed boards in some respects. The bill also seems to introduce an ex post facto rule: If the student’s vote makes a difference, it doesn’t count, but if it doesn’t make a difference, go ahead and count it.
Fortunately, HB 629 received an “unfavorable” report from the House Ways and Means Committee last week and will not see the light of day.
An additional 15 boards have student members, but they have no voting privileges on those boards: