In America, Some School Boards Have Student Members


School boards are usually made up of elected members who make policy decisions about local public school districts.

In the United States, some school boards have representatives who are students.

There are issues that have made some school board meetings places of disagreement. These issues include measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, how the issues of race and sexuality are taught, and the place of religion in the classroom.

Until recently, most school boards were thought of as non-partisan. But some school boards have been affected by political disagreements. Some candidates for local, state and national office in November’s elections considered school policy an important campaign issue.

Conservative groups like Moms For Liberty and The 1776 Project spent millions of dollars helping elect conservative school board members. Liberal organizations also support candidates and causes. They include Stand for Children, the Campaign for Our Shared Action Fund, and Education Reform Now. Teachers’ labor unions like the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, also spend money in support of political candidates and causes.

FILE - Children holding signs against Critical Race Theory stand on stage near Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as he addresses the crowd before publicly signing HB7 at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., on April 22, 2022. (Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP, file)

FILE – Children holding signs against Critical Race Theory stand on stage near Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as he addresses the crowd before publicly signing HB7 at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., on April 22, 2022. (Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP, file)

Debates about school policy can involve local and state school officials, school board members and parents. However, some districts permit student members on school boards. They provide the board with a student opinion on the board’s decision-making.

The National School Boards Association found that in at least 31 states, local districts can choose to have student board representatives. But just 14 percent of the country’s 495 largest districts have student members. And just one state—Maryland—permits student representatives to have voting power like other school board members. Some student representatives are elected by students in their district. Others must apply for the position. Most are high school students and serve for one-year terms.

VOA spoke with five student board members from Maryland, Wisconsin, and Virginia. Each said they felt it was very important for school boards to have a student voice.

Zachary Nowacek is a student board member at the Wauwatosa School District outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He said school board members “don’t always get to see the whole school experience from a student perspective. And because we are the ones receiving the education, it’s important for us to be a part of the conversation as well.”

Janare Davis, who recently finished his term as student representative for Portsmouth city schools in Virginia, agrees. “That was my big thing [as a student representative]. Students having a voice.” As a member, he visited each of the district’s schools to hear students’ concerns. Even before he became a board member, he supported legislation that removed school uniforms for the only school in Portsmouth that required them.

“In my opinion, an adult can’t speak for a student. Students can speak for students,” Davis said.

Some of the student members say that they have witnessed some of the debates about school policy during their time on a board.

Noa Blanken is the student representative in Harford County schools in northern Maryland. The county favored Donald Trump over Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election by 55 percent to 43 percent. She described the county as the “perfect mix of every single demographic you can imagine.”

Blanken said that many adults from outside the district have come to speak to the board during meetings. She said many have spoken out against critical race theory, an idea that makes race a central consideration. During public comments in meetings “groups come and they get pretty loud and rowdy,” she said.

Blanken said some people who have spoken to the board support reducing funding for programs for poor students, like free school lunches. Blanken said she wanted to be a board member to support low-income students, who make up a large percentage of students in Harford County.

“These people are coming in and they there are arguing that we need to focus all of our money on science and math and reading and history [to improve test scores] and take away all these other…



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