ANNAPOLIS – More than 20 teen-agers jammed Montgomery’s House delegation meeting Friday to protest two bills to limit the voting rights of the county’s student member of the board of education, also known as the SMOB.
The students traveled from more than five different Montgomery high schools to show their opposition. Many held orange and yellow signs reading, “Every Vote Counts and Every Vote Should Count!! – SMOB Voting Rights.”
One bill would require a larger majority to pass a motion when the student casts an affirmative vote, a move that diminishes the value of the student’s vote, the high-schoolers argued.
The second bill would prohibit the student from voting on matters involving disciplinary or hiring decisions of school personnel. While SMOBs have not participated in disciplinary votes in the past for teachers or school administrators, they have had input into hiring decisions, especially regarding the superintendent.
The Montgomery County School Board Composition Task Force proposed the bills, which also would increase benefits and salary of board members and provide the SMOB with a $5,000 scholarship.
Kenneth Muir, who represented the task force, cited philosophical reasons for rescinding the student member’s vote on personnel matters. His written testimony said some members of the task force were bothered by the SMOB’s involvement during the selection of Superintendent Jerry Weast.
The board opposes both bills, said President Reggie Felton.
“Students have proven to be conscientious, insightful, knowledgeable, and committed members of the Board of Education and should continue to have the voting powers they have been granted,” he said.
Former SMOB Christopher Lloyd argued for the value of the student role.
“I brought something no other board member could bring – experience. I was the expert on being a student in Montgomery County.”
Students are outraged, said Charis Goff, regional president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils.
“We should be moving to incorporate students into school system decision- making, not pushing them out. We deserve the rights that are being threatened by this bill. Students want an active voice in their educations.”
Legislators smiled as the high school students eloquently stated their points. Afterward, Delegate Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery, said he opposed the bills and thought they would not pass.
The bills will move next to the County Affairs Committee, which will discuss them and present a recommendation. Dembrow is chairman of the committee and said the bills would be discussed at the next committee meeting Jan. 15.