Leave Our Student Board Member Alone
In a blog post yesterday, I urged voters to ask our School Board candidates to “leave our student board member alone.” Because this is a critical election cycle in which we will elect five of the nine School Board members in November, I wanted to revisit the School Board’s discussion about barring the student board member from executive sessions. I think it proves my point that the School Board is very afraid of being held accountable, and they view the incoming student as a threat to their hidden agendas that are kept behind closed doors. I gave my brief opinion on the matter, restated below, and got some feedback for you to consider with others who are very familiar with this issue.
“As the Washington Post reported and editorialized earlier in June, the School Board spent a lot of wasted time debating whether the student board member should be allowed to attend executive sessions. To be quite blunt, it does nothing to help improve BOE Chair Jeana Jacobs’ image in the county, since the student board member is also the sister of her opponent in the November election. It provides additional proof of the petty politics that Jacobs will engage in, following her crushing loss to Raheela Ahmed in the primary election. If Jacobs wishes to refute these allegations, and tell us what platform she is running on to be re-elected, at the very least I would welcome a website where we can learn more information about what she has accomplished in her previous terms. So far, none exists.”
Another source who is very familiar with the work of the elected School Board states the following opinion about the matter: ” I think that a decision to remove the Student Member is not only completely unnecessary, but it is a calculated move done for political reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the Prince George’s County Board of Education, the mission we perpetuate, or the people we serve. This is a sad attempt to preamptively strike a dedicated, hardworking, and focused young lady who will be taking office in a few weeks, and happens to be related to someone challenging a seat of our complacent leadership. What is happening now is indicative of why we must change our motto from “children come first,” because that is certainly not the case. We have some amazing people throuhgout our school system and schools, but in order to overcome the politics and bureaucracy we need a Board that comes with the correct mindset, goals, and focus. ”
I also wanted to share with you some poignant comments made by Dave Cahn, Co-Chair of Citizens for an Elected Board, which I urge you to think about as you make up your own mind on the issue.
“The proposed school board action is illegal and immoral. Under the law, the student member is a full member of the board with the same rights and privileges at other board members, but with two exceptions:
1. There are six matters on which the student member is not allowed to vote.
2. The student member may not attend an executive session related to any of three stated matters, unless invited by a vote of the other board members.
On the first issue, the board wants to prevent the student member from discussing or making motions regarding any of the matters on which voting is not permitted. The law does not permit the board to impose such restrictions.
On the second issue, the board counsel wants the board to exclude the student member from ALL executive sessions absent an invitation approved by the other members. Counsel wants a vote before each executive session on whether to invite the student member to attend, and the provision probably will make it into the draft policy change.
It clearly is beyond the power of the board to do this. The student member, as a member of the board, does not need an invitation to attend any session of the board, executive or otherwise. The student member’s participation is automatic. On the other hand, the exclusion of the student member from an executive session that relates to any of the three issues in the law is equally automatic. If the other members wish to invite the student member to attend, they may do so. If not, no vote is needed.
I attended the June 4 policy committee meeting. Like all this board’s committees, all board members are committee members, and all were present. I was astounded at a comment from one member to the effect that “we discuss those matters as part of every executive session, so the student member should not be allowed to attend any of them unless invited.”
A reasonable reading of the law would permit the student member to attend all executive sessions as a matter of right, leave the session during discussion of or action on one of the excluded matters, and return after those matters are discussed. A reasonable board would group the excluded matters at the beginning or end of the meeting. Any motion to invite the student member to attend discussion of an excluded matter should, if possible, be taken in open session. If taken during an executive session, the vote (including the individual vote of each member) should be reported in open session.
I should note that Board Counsel Abbey Hairston is supplied by Thatcher Law firm, which has a lucrative sole-source contract with the board and is a large contributor to Board Chair Verjeana Jacobs’ reelection campaign. That the incoming student board member is sister to Jacobs’ general election opponent should not be lost on anyone. It is a nice way to punish the entire family. However, the anti-student board member sentiment among the adult members has been around for years.”
The School Board has the most direct effect on the top issue facing our county: poorly-performing public schools. Take your vote seriously as you approach the ballot box this November, because the future of our County (and our students) depends on it. In my opinion, Jeana Jacobs should not be re-elected.