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Howard High’s Peter Banyas wins election for student member of the Howard County Board of Education

Howard High School’s Peter Banyas will be the Howard County Board of Education’s next student member.

Banyas, a junior, defeated Glenelg High School junior Dhruvi Mirani in the online election held last week for the position, which recently faced a challenge by parents who questioned its constitutionality in a failed lawsuit.

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The vote among school system students in grades six through 11 had a 42% turnout with 11,483 students voting. Banyas received 60% of the vote to Mirani’s 40%.

Banyas will serve a one-year term during the 2021-22 academic year, starting in July.

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Peter Banyas
Peter Banyas (Photo courtesy of the Howard County Public School System)

“Thank you to everyone who supported me for the past two and a half months,” wrote Banyas on his campaign’s Instagram page, which has more than 3,000 followers. “I promise to be leadership that listens to all students, no matter who you voted for.”

Banyas, Howard’s Class of 2022 Student Government Association president, said in his online campaign materials that his main priorities are getting civic education and financial literacy included in social studies, increasing support for mental health and pushing the school system to continue to join the Green Schools Alliance, a worldwide effort to address climate change in schools. Banyas, who is also co-president of the school’s Tri-M Music Honor Society and vice president of the Math Honor Society, has also said he will hold town halls and will post weekly videos discussing relevant issues.

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.

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 more than 130 student delegates from the district’s middle and high schools to vote for the final two student candidates.

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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 School.

No jurisdiction in the state has been more focused on the student member position than Howard’s residents.

It started in September, when then-new student member Zach Koung, a senior at Howard High, 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, angered some in the community and led to subsequent board work sessions, town halls and focus groups about the program that places police officers in county high schools and some middle schools.

The topic is still being discussed, with Howard County Executive Calvin Ball in April putting his support behind keeping the program — but changing — the program. The future of the program now lies with the school board, which still has to approve an agreement between the police department and the school system before resource officers can return to high schools.

The student member position was also in the fray in November and December, as divided board discussions and motions about hybrid learning led to scrutiny by parents.

Koung voted multiple times 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 then 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.

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, which he said would end the “gridlock” happening with the Howard County school board. However, the bill died in committee in February.

Banyas is scheduled to be sworn in on July 15.

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