Baltimore, MD (February 9, 2021) – More than 125 past student members of Maryland boards of education from every jurisdiction in the state, including the State Board of Education, have joined together in an amicus brief prepared and submitted by Venable LLP challenging two Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) parents’ attempt to strip the Howard County Board of Education’s student member of his statutory voting rights on issues before the board. Amici have served on Maryland boards of education as early as 1975 and as recently as 2020.
The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit after members of the Board voted in December to continue virtual learning through mid-April due to the coronavirus pandemic. They argue that the student member’s statutory right to vote as a full-fledged board member violates Maryland’s constitution because he was selected by students in grades 6 through 11, who are not of sufficient age to vote for elected officials. A further problem, the plaintiffs allege, is that student members are not adults when they take office, and the state constitution requires that all elected officials be 18 or older. The amicus brief argues that the student member is an appointed member of the board, not an elected member subject to the age requirements for elections and elected officials in Maryland’s constitution. Among other things, the amici argue that appointed officials are not subject to age restrictions and that the plain language of the statutes that govern Maryland elections and the Howard County student member establish that the student member is an appointed and not an elective position under Maryland’s constitutional and statutory schemes.
The amici have come together to inform the court about the potential statewide impact that could result if the plaintiffs prevail. Student membership with voting rights on local and state school boards is a statutory directive enacted by diverse sessions of the General Assembly over many years, reflecting the clear and consistent policy for student participation in the governance of their school systems. Maryland has led the way nationally in establishing and promoting student participation, giving voting rights to student members of the boards of seven Maryland school systems and the State Board of Education. If accepted, plaintiffs’ theory could strip hundreds of thousands of Maryland students of meaningful representation regarding the educational decisions and policies that affect them.
The Venable attorneys involved are Mitchell Y. Mirviss, Emily J. Wilson, and Elizabeth A. Sines.
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