SMOB’s power should not be limited

Last December, the Howard County Board of Education voted to allow students to return to in-person schooling if their parents approve. The vote ended up in a 4-4 gridlock. The Student Member of the Board (SMOB), Zach Koung, voted to keep virtual schooling — a move that greatly upset many parents.

Two parents in HCPSS, Traci Spiegel and Kimberly Ford filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education (BOE), saying that since the SMOB is under 18 years old, and not allowed to vote in public elections, they should not be allowed to vote on BOE matters.

A couple of weeks later, State Delegate Reid Novotny introduced legislation in the Maryland General Assembly to disallow a SMOB to make a tie-breaking vote. For reference, Novotny was appointed by Governor Hogan after a delegate resigned last December, meaning he hasn’t been voted on by his constituents yet.

It is important to have a SMOB because they represent the voices of the students, as opposed to the rest of the BOE members who don’t have a first-hand understanding of the struggles of current students. The problem is not the SMOB. Rather, it’s having eight voting members with no procedure to break the tie.

Votes that end in gridlock are votes on the most polarizing issues and the ones that affect MCPS students the most and are thus the ones that need student input most.

Votes that end in gridlock are votes on the most polarizing issues and the ones that affect MCPS students the most and are thus the ones that need student input most.”

All boards of education in counties in Maryland have a SMOB, and they have varying levels of voting rights. Some SMOB’s can’t vote at all and just give input, some have partial voting rights like in Howard County and others have full voting rights like in MCPS. Partial voting rights include voting on general resolutions but not on the budget, for example.

The position has existed for over 30 years and has had a positive impact on education in Maryland. According to state court records, this is the first time the SMOB position is being disputed in court. Why haven’t parents sued the county before? Why are they just suing today? Is it because the SMOB voted in a way they disagree with? If the SMOB had voted to return to school, would they have still sued?

More than 125 past SMOBs from all across the state including the state SMOB and the MCPS SMOB filed an amicus curiae brief against the defendants of the lawsuits. Amicus curiae briefs are legal documents filed by an interest party who is affected by the outcome of the lawsuit. The amici have come together to inform the court about the potential statewide impact that could result if the plaintiffs prevail.

“The Student Member is one of the most vital positions on any Board of Education as they represent the largest — and most important — stakeholder group, the students… They deserve a voice, a vote, and a stake in their education; and through a Student Member, they get that,” the amicus curiae noted.

There is no reason to limit the power of the SMOB.”

There is no reason to limit the power of the SMOB. We should not be limiting the voice of students in any way, whether through the Maryland Legislature or the state circuit court. Instead, we should communicate with students on why they feel like they can’t return to school safely, and try to meet those needs and compromise.

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