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Carroll County student school board member signs letter of support for Howard County student after lawsuit

Student representatives from boards of education across the state signed their names at the end of a letter of support for the student voice — as well as for a Howard County student, whose recent vote against schools reopening triggered a lawsuit.

One of the signatures belonged to the Carroll County Board of Education student representative.

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“For me, this issue is all about the student voice,” Devanshi Mistry, a junior at Liberty High, said. “And the students are the biggest stakeholder in education. This issue, this event that happened, it’s literally an attack on students’ voice.”

While Mistry is a non-voting member of Carroll’s board, some schools boards in Maryland have student representatives who are full voting members, including Howard, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Harford, Baltimore County and Baltimore City.

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Two parents with children in Howard County Public Schools filed a lawsuit to strip the board of education member’s right to vote on issues before the board. It was filed after the parents noticed the student’s vote contributed to the decision to delay in-person learning.

“We, the students of Maryland’s Boards of Education, are alarmed and disheartened to hear about the frivolous lawsuit filed against the Board of Education of Howard County attempting to remove the voting rights of its current student member, our colleague and friend,” the letter from the student members states.

Mistry said she believes her own voice is heard on Carroll’s board, though her vote is not tallied with the others. However, she said voting rights are a goal everyone should strive for.

Her role is to represent the students, she said, and she and her colleagues feel it’s necessary for the student voice to be heard in a legitimate way. Mistry, who was elected for two terms in June, said the student reps work hard at being a board member, an additional responsibility on top of school work and extracurricular activities. It’s one of the biggest civic roles a student could have, she said, and they are trying to increase community engagement in the position.

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The letter states students are the driving force behind education policies, and they deserve a voice, vote and stake in their education.

“Students now more than ever deserve to have a say when it comes to their education,” the letter states.

It goes on to say the issues students face that stem from the pandemic, mental health crisis and a reckoning on racial equality, only increase the need for the position with full voting rights.

The lawsuit argues that giving a high school student the right to vote violates Maryland’s constitution because most student board members are not 18 years old and, therefore, are not old enough to vote in elections.

But the 16 signees of the student board member letter stated students have been voting on local and state boards for half a century.

“Student members do not act capriciously, arbitrarily, or without thought and due diligence, and anyone that says otherwise is clearly not intuned with what it means to be a student board member,” the letter states. “They are working equally as hard as their adult counterparts.” The students stated it is not enough to only give a representative opinion, they should always be allowed to vote.

Mistry said her fellow student members keep in touch through group chat and after learning about the lawsuit, they decided this was an issue deserving of a response. It’s a decision that affects them all and, as the letter states, “an attack on one of our voices is an attack on all of our voices.”

Carroll County Board of Education President Marsha Herbert and Vice President Ken Kiler did not respond to requests for comment.

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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