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ArlingtonEducationBill mandating student reps on School Board dies in Richmond

Bill mandating student reps on School Board dies in Richmond

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A proposal to require all local School Boards in Virginia to contain a student member went down to defeat in a House of Delegates subcommittee Jan. 24.

The measure – patroned by Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington-Fairfax) – would if passed have directed all county and city School Boards that do not currently have a student representative to put in motion plans to add one.

Lopez said 31 states (including Virginia) currently allow students to serve on School Boards as a local option, while Massachusetts and Ohio were among states that require a student representative.

“Embrace and bring along the best and brightest in the commonwealth,” Lopez asked members of a House subcommittee.

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A few school districts across Virginia do have appointed student representatives. “Fairfax’s has worked incredibly well,” Lopez said, saying those who had served in such positions have been “incredibly earnest, impressive young people.”

Supporting the proposal was Ben Lambert, who in 2013-14 served as student representative on the Newport News School Board.

“Students are obviously a key stakeholder – they deserve a say,” Lambert said in support of the measure. “A student member adds perspective.”
“They really need one of their own” to have their voices truly heard, Lambert said.

But that’s where love for the proposal ended. A representative of the Virginia Schools Boards Association said the organization had “some serious concerns” about the measure, HB2069.

(Lopez retorted that the organization representing Virginia’s School Boards was engaging in “misinformation” and wasn’t telling the whole story.)

Lopez was not a member of the subcommittee. Several of those who were, however, raised concerns. Some were critical of mandates on local governments from on high (Richmond) in principle, others on the specifics of the Lopez measure.

Lopez’s bill would have left it up to School Boards in each locality to determine whether students were elected or appointed, whether they were paid, and whether they would have a vote or not. But that leeway may have proved detrimental to the bill’s chances of success.

Del. Dave LaRock (R-Berryville) zeroed in on the possibility that a high-schooler could be appointed to an otherwise all-elected School Board.
“It could lead to a student, unelected by the populace, having a full vote,” he said.

(Fairfax County Public Schools has had a student representative to its School Board since the 1960s, for the first few years vested with a full vote. But that voting power was stripped away in the 1970s following a scandal involving the improper use of funds.)

The subcommittee chair, Del. G. John Avoli (R-Staunton), said giving support to this proposal could be the equivalent of kicking a hornets’ nest.

“Where are we going to end?” he asked Lopez. “What if a bill comes up to have someone on [a] City Council, a 16- or 17-year-old on a Board of Supervisors? Where do we draw the line?”

There was some support for the measure, but it was killed off on a 5-3 vote and will not advance to the full committee.

When questioned in the past as to why neighboring Fairfax has a student representative to the School Board but they do not, Arlington School Board members generally have responded that they prefer to work through a student-advisory board, whose members meet periodically with School Board members and top staff and at the end of the year issue a public report.

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