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Lawsuit over Howard school board student member has merit | READER COMMENTARY

A packed crowd, holding signs and wearing T-shirts, made its concerns known during the Howard County Board of Education vote on redistricting last year. File.
A packed crowd, holding signs and wearing T-shirts, made its concerns known during the Howard County Board of Education vote on redistricting last year. File. (Amy Davis)

Although there are many good reasons for permitting a student to serve on a local board of education and even grant said representative the authority to cast binding votes on certain issues, the lawsuit two Howard County parents recently filed seeking to strip the student school board member’s right to vote has merit (”Howard County parents file lawsuit challenging student school board member’s voting rights,” Dec. 16).

Unfortunately, Maryland lawmakers took numerous procedural shortcuts in granting voting rights to the student member of the Howard County Board of Education. Maryland law expressly requires that members of the Howard school board be elected. Maryland’s constitution, however, stipulates that a voter must be at least 18 years of age. Yet the 2007 law bestowing upon the Howard County student board member the right to vote establishes an election process whereby ineligible voters — middle and high school students — elect a candidate who is not a registered voter, a qualification Maryland law requires for all elected officials. Furthermore, Maryland’s education code precludes anyone subject to the authority of a local board of education from serving on such body to avoid a conflict of interest such as a teacher member pushing for a salary increase or a student member voting to cancel final exams.

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Students serving on a local board of education receive an unmatched, lifelong lesson in the importance of rules and process in government. Maryland courts can underscore the significance of following proper procedure in lawmaking and find unconstitutional the law granting voting rights to the Howard County student board member. Lawmakers then owe it to the Howard County student board member and those in the six other Maryland jurisdictions that have voting rights — Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties — to pass a constitutional amendment establishing the election or selection of student members to local boards of education and allowing those representatives limited voting rights and sending it to voters for ratification.

Gene Harrington, Ellicott City

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