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Election of student member of the Howard County Board of Education to be held online next week

Two Howard County high school juniors are campaigning to be elected as the student member of the Board of Education in an online vote set for next week.

Howard High School junior Peter Banyas and Glenelg High School junior Dhruvi Mirani are running for the position, which recently faced a challenge by parents who questioned its constitutionality in a failed lawsuit.

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The election will be administered online on Canvas, an online portal for the school system’s students, from May 5 to 7. The winner will serve a one-year term during the 2021-22 academic year.

About 25,000 Howard County students in grades six through 11 are eligible to vote and will receive an announcement on Canvas to explain the process. Students will also be able to watch a video of each candidate before voting.

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The student board member represents approximately 57,000 students in the county and is allowed to vote on all issues except redistricting, budget, personnel and “other restricted measures,” according to the school system’s website.

Cindy Drummond, adviser for the Howard County Association of Student Councils, which focuses on leadership in the schools, said the student member position is important to “empower” students.

“The hundreds of students who step up to lead and serve [as part of HCASC] truly serve as an inspiration to each other,” Drummond said. “Their professionalism and dedication to leadership and service inspires me and the students and helps put into practice the habits of heart and mind it takes to serve as engaged and informed citizens.”

Banyas and Mirani were chosen out of a pool of 13 students at the county’s student council convention on Feb. 17. The convention gathered 132 student delegates from the school system’s middle and high schools to vote for the final two student candidates.

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The two students then began their campaigns on social media and on Canvas to pitch their platforms.

In Banyas’ online materials, he called his main priorities getting civic education and financial literacy included in social studies, support for mental health, and pushing the school system to join the Green Schools Alliance, a worldwide effort to address climate change in schools.

Banyas is the Howard Class of 2022 Student Government Association president, co-president of the Tri-M Music Honor Society and vice president of the Math Honor Society.

Mirani has been the Glenelg Class of 2022 Student Government Association president for three years, is co-captain of the school’s debate club and vice president of the Glenelg Democrats club. Mirani has said in his online materials that his greatest priorities are equity, mental health and restorative justice.

The Howard County Board of Education has had a student member since 1988 when Atholton High’s Marcy Leonard was the first student to be chosen. Leonard is now principal at Wilde Lake High.

The student position on the board has been a point of contention several times this term. Current student board member Zach Koung, a senior at Howard High School, made waves last September when he motioned to remove school resource officers from the county’s middle and high schools. The motion, which failed to pass, surprised several members of the board and led to dialogue at subsequent board meetings, town halls and focus groups about the program that places police officers in county high schools and some of its middle schools. The topic is still being discussed, with Howard County Executive Calvin Ball last week putting his support behind keeping the program — but changing — the program and the school board set to vote on the future of the program on May 11.

In November and December, divided board discussion and motions about hybrid learning led to scrutiny by parents in the community. Multiple times, Koung voted against starting hybrid learning on motions that ended in 4-4 ties. At times, the rhetoric among some Howard County residents, mostly in community Facebook groups, about Koung and the student member position reached levels that schools Superintendent Michael Martirano called “online bullying.”

Two Howard County parents filed a lawsuit in mid-December that argued the position of a board member under the age of 18 violates the Maryland constitution because the students are unqualified to vote in elections or hold elected office. In March, Howard County Circuit Court Judge Richard S. Bernhardt ruled against them.

Then, in January, newly appointed Del. Reid Novotny introduced legislation in the General Assembly to strip student school board members in Maryland of their vote if it is a “deciding vote” on a motion. He said he filed the legislation to end the “gridlock” happening with the Howard County school board. However, the bill died in committee in February.

The focus on student representation also led to movements locally and nationally about student voice.

The winner of the student member election will be announced after the votes are tallied. The term begins July 8.

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