BALTIMORE, MD—Venable LLP represented a coalition of more than 125 past student members of Maryland boards of education from every jurisdiction in the state, including the State Board of Education, challenging two Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) parents’ attempt to strip the Howard County Board of Education’s student member of their statutory voting rights on issues before the board. On Aug. 24, 2022, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the Howard County Circuit Court’s decision, affirming the voting rights of student members on local boards of education.
The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit after members of the board voted in December 2020 to continue virtual learning through mid-April 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. They argued that the student member’s statutory right to vote as a full-fledged board member violates Maryland’s constitution because they are selected by students in grades 6 through 11, who are not of sufficient age to vote for elected officials. A further problem, the plaintiffs alleged, is that student members are not adults when they take office, and the state constitution requires that all elected officials be 18 or older.
Amici, who served on Maryland boards of education as early as 1975 and as recently as 2021, came together to inform the court about the potential statewide impact that could result if the plaintiffs prevailed. Student membership with voting rights on local and state school boards is a statutory directive enacted by diverse sessions of the General Assembly over many years, reflecting a clear and consistent policy for student participation in the governance of their school systems. Maryland has led the way nationally in establishing and promoting student participation, giving voting rights to student members of the boards of eight Maryland school systems and the State Board of Education. Venable argued that the student member is an appointed member of the board, not an elected member subject to the age requirements for elections and elected officials in Maryland’s constitution. The Court of Appeals agreed, and its decision ensures that hundreds of thousands of Maryland students will continue to have meaningful representation regarding the educational decisions and policies that affect them through their voting student member.
The Venable attorneys involved are Mitchell Y. Mirviss, Emily J. Wilson, and Elizabeth A. Sines.