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Applications open for 2021-22 Howard County student member of the Board of Education

Applications for the 2021-22 Howard County student member of the Board of Education are open until Feb. 4.

The student member, a junior or senior, is chosen by students in grades six through 11 and serves a one-year term. Howard High School senior Zach Koung is the board’s 2020-21 student member.

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Interested sophomores and juniors can send completed applications to Cindy Drummond, the adviser for the Howard County Association of Student Councils, by 4 p.m. Feb. 4.

The rules on the student’s voting power vary between counties in Maryland. Sixteen of the 24 Maryland school boards don’t allow student members to vote, but most school boards in the Baltimore region do give the student member voting power. In Howard County, the student member can vote on most topics except those involving the school budget, personnel or other restricted matters, including legal issues and redistricting.

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The Maryland State Board of Education also has a student member who is appointed by the governor and is able to vote on all matters except those pertaining to appeals of personnel.

The first student member of the board in Howard County was Marcy Leonard, elected in 1988 while a student at Atholton High School. Leonard is now principal at Wilde Lake High School.

The annual application process comes amid community controversy regarding the student member’s voting rights.

Last month, two Howard County parents with children in the school system filed a lawsuit to strip the student school board member’s right to vote. The lawsuit, filed Dec. 16 in Howard County Circuit Court by parents Traci Spiegel and Kimberly Ford, argues that giving a high school student the right to vote on school board decisions violates Maryland’s constitution because the student is not 18 years old and is not eligible to vote in elections or to hold an elected office.

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The lawsuit was filed shortly after multiple tied votes by the Howard County school board. The board, which has seven members elected by Howard voters and one student member, has tied on multiple motions in recent months regarding reopening plans and a possible hybrid model. The district’s students have been learning virtually since April after the coronavirus pandemic closed schools in March.

Following the contentious votes, some on social media — mostly in community Facebook groups — have criticized the board’s student member.

In late December, Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano spoke out against the online “bullying” of Koung.

“My staff and I have witnessed online behavior and comments on social media that have propelled me to address a multitude of unconscionable acts of bullying by adults in our community,” Martirano said. “... I find these actions to be reprehensible. We, as Howard County residents, should be mortified that a community that prides itself on civility has neighbors that would stoop so low as to harass any person, but particularly a student, in order to silence their voice.”

Del. Reid Novotny then introduced legislation Wednesday in the General Assembly to strip student school board members in Maryland of their vote if it is a “deciding vote” on a motion. Novotny, a newly appointed Republican who represents parts of Howard and Carroll counties in District 9A, said his legislation would end the “gridlock” happening with Howard County’s Board of Education.

The election for the next student member will be held in April. For information, contact Drummond at cindy_drummond@hcpss.org.

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