Del. Reid Novotny said he 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 Wednesday that his legislation would end the “gridlock” happening with Howard County’s Board of Education.
The school board, which has seven members elected by Howard voters and one student member elected by county middle and high school students, has tied on multiple motions in recent months regarding reopening plans and a possible hybrid model. Howard County Public School System students have been learning virtually since April after the coronavirus pandemic closed schools in March.
“My whole intent was to ensure the elected members by the voting populace of Howard County were able to do their job, which obviously has been sort of at a stalemate because of the number eight, an even number,” Novotny said. “When you have that gridlock, it’s hurting our school board’s ability to make a decision on [reopening].”
The bill, which has not yet been posted on the General Assembly’s website, would nullify the student member’s vote if the vote ends in a tie and removing the student’s vote would change the outcome. It is Novotny’s first bill as a delegate.
Novotny, who has a 9-year-old daughter attending virtual school in Howard County, wrote on his website that his legislation would “give back the decisional authority” to the voters of the county.
“It obviously is a passionate subject,” Novotny said. “My concern is that in the end there is no recourse for someone who is not elected by the voting public of Howard County. If I do a terrible job or a school board member does a terrible job, they can be voted out in the next election. The student board member — and I think it’s a great way to interact with our board — is different in that sense.”
Novotny was sworn in last week after Gov. Larry Hogan appointed him to fill former Del. Warren Miller’s seat. Novotny was selected by the Republican central committees of Howard and Carroll counties to fill the vacancy left by Miller, who retired Dec. 30.
Novotny, a Glenelg resident, is a Maryland National Guard Joint Staff lead for IT and cyber and ran in the 2018 state Senate race to represent District 9. He lost in the Republican primary to Gail Bates, who later lost to Democrat Katie Fry Hester. According to the Republican Central Committee of Howard, Novotny has served as a member of the committee since 2019. He also is a member of the Technology Committee for the Maryland Republican Party and a member of the state party’s nominating committee.
His legislation comes a month after 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.
Sixteen of the 24 Maryland school boards don’t allow students to vote. However, most school boards in the Baltimore region have one student member who can vote on most topics. The student — a junior or senior — is elected by middle and high school students and serves a one-year term. In Howard, the student member can vote on most topics except those involving redistricting, personnel, legal issues, the budget and “other restricted matters,” according to the school system’s website. Howard High School senior Zach Koung is the board’s 2020-21 student member.
Howard County school system Superintendent Michael Martirano and Board of Education Chair Chao Wu both declined to comment on Novotny’s legislation, citing the ongoing lawsuit.
The Howard County school board has tied on a number of votes over the past few months on topics ranging from school resource officers to matters regarding the school reopening process.
Following the votes, some on social media — mostly in community Facebook groups — have criticized the board’s student member.
In late December, 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.”
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Baltimore Sun Media reporter Ana Faguy contributed to this article.