Should the student member on the Harford County Board of Education have a vote? Students say yes, but some adult board members say no, citing students’ lack of maturity and experience.
That dismissive description hardly fits the Harford County Public School students who have been advocating for the vote. Students like Greg Waterworth and Annie Olezczuk have done their research. They’ve networked with fellow students across the state, rallied local support, distributed petitions, spoken out at public meetings, made presentations to PTAs, met with elected officials and convinced many adults (myself included) that students can make vital contributions as voting members of the school board.
Although students have wanted a vote on the Harford County Board of Education for some time, there’s clearly new energy in the air. According to Greg and Annie, the debate over school uniforms served as the catalyst. But these outstanding students don’t need me or anyone else to tell their story for them. So here they are, in their own words:
The Student’s Vote
The students of Harford County Public Schools are ready for their voice to be heard. The Board of Education’s push for school uniforms was the single spark igniting a huge fire. Since the Board’s dismissal of uniforms due to economic reasons, student leaders have turned their focus to the source of their grievances.
For 20 years the students of Harford County have been trying to gain voting rights for their representative on the Board of Education. The Student Representative on the Board (SROB) is elected by a delegation of students from every middle and high school in the county, except Southhampton. This delegation is known as the Harford County Regional Association of Student Councils (HCRASC) and is the county’s student council as well as a major outlet for student activism.
Candidates go through an interview process and debate before the General Assembly of HCRASC. After the votes are tallied and the winner is announced the Student Representative elected starts shadowing and training with the current SROB to prepare them for their term. Currently, the Student Representative is the only member elected to the board of 8 and has an opinion vote which holds little weight and has no legitimacy in the final tally.
HCRASC is fighting this year to bring power to the student body’s voice by working to enfranchise the Student Representative on the Board of Education with partial voting rights.
HB 987 was introduced to the Maryland House of Delegates by Delegate Riley of district 34A. HB 987 gives the Student Member a legitimate vote on matters pertaining to Curriculum and School Climate policies, but doesn’t not allow the student to vote on matters pertaining to the Budget, Personnel, Re-districting, or collective bargaining.
In the State of Maryland, five local school systems: Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Montgomery County, Howard County, and Prince George’s County give their Board of Education’s student member partial voting rights. Anne Arundel County is the only school district in the state where the student member on the board has the same voting rights as the adult members. Harford County hopes to be the seventh school district to have a student member on the Board of Education with voting rights.
The students of Harford County are ready for this responsibility. As the beneficiaries of the Board of Education we wish to not only have a representative but to be a part the deliberations and decisions made by our Board. Many believe us to be inexperienced and immature, therefore unfit for this task, but are thirteen years of Harford County Public Education not enough? And the very fact that students are fighting for partial voting rights, for enfranchisement, proves that we are much more than immature “kids”. We are young adults and we want our voice to be immutable.
By Greg Waterworth
What’s most impressive is that Greg, Annie and other student-advocates in Harford County view their cause as something greater than themselves. As graduating seniors, you might expect them to be cruising toward Senior Week. Instead, they’re busy documenting their work with the idea of empowering younger students to continue their advocacy. So that whatever happens to HB 987 this year, the spirit of this student-led movement may live on.
House Bill 987 has a hearing scheduled before the House Ways and Means Committee on March 4th. Late word is County Executive David Craig will be there to testify in support.