High Court Validates Voting Rights of Student Members of Local School Boards

Maryland’s highest court has reaffirmed the voting rights of student members of local boards of education, likely to have significant impacts on how local boards conduct business.

On August 28, the Maryland Court of Appeals — the State’s highest ranking court — ruled against an attempt to limit the voting rights of the student member of the Howard County Board of Education. A Baltimore Sun article explains the ruling:

The court held Wednesday that the county school board did not run afoul of the Maryland Constitution by granting voting rights to its student board member. Two parents, frustrated with the outcome of several board decisions concerning the reopening of schools, filed the lawsuit in December 2020 against Howard County’s board on behalf of their children in the school system.

Of particular interest is the ruling’s implication on major policy decisions, such as emergency responses, school openings and procedures, and budgetary matters. In fact, Howard court case came after parents in the county challenged the student member’s 2020 participation in votes on whether or not to return to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Traci Spiegel and Kimberly Ford challenged the student’s voting rights after the board repeatedly split 4-4 on motions that would have allowed students to return to school buildings amid the pandemic. The student member had voted against resuming in-person instruction, resulting in stalemates that caused the motions to fail.

What’s in a vote? The role of student members

The role and authority of student members on local boards of education has long been a debate throughout Maryland. Most of Maryland’s local boards of education reserve at least one membership for a current student of the jurisdiction’s public schools to help to shape policy and decision making. The rights and role of student members vary greatly across jurisdictions, however. The Baltimore Sun reported on it last year:

In Maryland, a student board member’s influence varies widely from county to county. Some students are nominated or selected for boards on a rotating basis from a county’s high schools. Some don’t sit on the dais with adult members, but at their own table. Some counties limit students’ ability to participate in votes, particularly those related to budgetary matters or personnel decisions.

Last year, student members of local school boards joined together and formed the Maryland Association of Student Board Members to advocate for the expansion of their voting rights and authority.

The central findings from the case

Traci Spiegel, et al. v. Board of Education of Howard County, No. 18, September Term,
2021. Opinion by Gould, J.


SEPARATION OF POWERSEDUCATION


The General Assembly has the constitutional authority to establish a public school system in the manner it sees fit. That authority includes the creation, modification, and
abolishment of local boards of education, as well as the right to determine the qualifications of its members and the manner and methods by which they are selected. The General
Assembly exercised this authority in Md. Code Ann. (2008, 2018 Rep. Vol.), Education Article (“ED”) § 3701, which establishes the student member position of the Howard
County Board of Education. Thus, the student member position is not subject to the Maryland Constitution’s electoral requirements.

Read more about the August 28 legal decision.

Read the slip opinion (court decision) online.

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