By Uma Ribeiro
Image Source: hcasc.hcpss.org
Take action to protect student voice by signing this petition.
Two parents of Howard County Public School students, Traci Spiegel and Kimberly Ford, filed a lawsuit against the Howard County Student Member of the Board (SMOB) position on Wednesday, December 16th, following the Board of Education’s vote to keep students virtual. In the lawsuit, parents argue that since the Student Member is under eighteen years of age, whoever holds that position should not be allowed to exercise their vote.
The current Student Member, Zach Koung, was not the only board member to vote against the motion for a hybrid learning model. The majority of the Board leaned the same way, with members Jen Mallo, Jolene Mosley, and Antonia Barkley Watts voting to keep students virtual for the time being rather than return to in-person learning before April.
Despite this fact, Spiegel and Ford chose to go after the voting rights of specifically the Student Member, which many have called an attack on student voice. It is no secret that some Howard County parents have not been pleased with the precautions taken to keep students safe from COVID-19. Back in October, groups of parents were seen rallying outside the School Board demanding that students go back to school in-person, all while infection (and death) rates were on the rise. However, these parents have reached a new level of aggression, going so far as to attack the student member’s vote, and, thus, student voice.
It is obvious that Spiegel and Ford, along with their supporters, are not thinking of what is truly best for Howard County students and staff. They are well aware of the hierarchy they are attempting to enforce by going after the Student Member, and the rights that come with the well-earned position. By filing this lawsuit, these parents are claiming that the student vote is less important than other member’s votes, and they think they can strip student representation from Howard County youth.
However, they have already been proven wrong. With the arrival of the lawsuit came an outpouring of support for the SMOB from students and community members alike. The Student Member position is critical for accurate representation of the student body. Without the student member vote, the student body would not have a fair chance to be heard or a chance to make positive and helpful change.
With Governor Hogan’s rash and uninformed decision for Maryland schools to reopen with a hybrid model on March 1st, it is clear that the pressure from parents has not died down. But rather than give in to the pressure, the Howard County Student Member of the Board, Zach Koung, did his job and used his voice by representing the true interests of the student body, reflecting their needs, and doing his part to protect Howard County students throughout the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition to a letter of support from fellow Maryland student representatives, a statement from Dr. Martinaro reprehending the actions of the parents, and a petition to protect the student member position, Hammond students voiced their frustration at the parents who filed the lawsuit and stated their support for the Student Member as well.
Senior Mohamed Elshassan commented, “The decision [to continue virtual learning] was necessary. We cannot hold in-person school during the pandemic or more people will become more infected. The parents’ actions were detestable and they should be ashamed for being so immature.”
“I felt that the lawsuit against the smob was unjust and an attempt to silence the students when they are the main stakeholders in the decisions of the school board. Student voice is important because students need to have their opinions heard. It is entirely unfair to leave decisions that impact the students up to a small group of people that share no stakes in the issue,” added Sophomore Leaana Khan.
Fellow Sophomore Lydia Jensen reacted to the lawsuit, stating, “I was shocked! Usually I personally expect lawsuits to have merit, and a group directly hurt. But who is hurt by students using their voice to affect change in their own schools? It’s abhorrent that anyone would take a stance against student voices and leadership roles. It’s absolutely despicable. They have absolutely no legal basis, and are just doing it to voice their resentment towards people using their right to use their voice for change. The idea that some people are so against representation to the point of trying to sabotage it is more than abhorrent.”
Students also commented on the vital importance of student voice and the Student Member of the Board position. Hammond Junior Adom Amissah said, “Student voice is important because it helps make the school environment more comfortable for the students. Those who have the most insight on what really goes on in schools and what the true environment is like are the actual students, as they experience it all first hand. The position for SMOB is important because it gives students an opportunity for their voices to be heard, especially by another student who has been given the opportunity to listen and help make change.”
She continued, “The student member provides different perspectives on what goes on in schools…they are able to reach out and communicate effectively with other students in order to gain that insight and help decide what changes need to be made. Though the student member is one person, the many different areas of which they have gained insight allows representation for the student body.”
Sophomore Lydia Jensen also commented on this, adding, “[Student voice] gives students the opportunity to speak their minds and explain the struggles that they face as students, some of which wouldn’t be understood without the students’ direct input. A voice for any group is important, especially if they have so little control in the system that they find themselves in.”
“Despite what a very loud few may think, representation is important especially in roles of power and significance. A school board without student representation is not an effective one, because they are only beholden to themselves and the people above them, not the students who are actually affected by the policies that the board makes. [The Student Member] listens to the students of HOCO and uses their vote and role as a board member to affect change at the higher levels. They inspire, inform, and change education for the better,” she said.
These impulsive actions taken by these two Howard County parents will not be tolerated by the student body. They have not and will not accomplish anything by attacking the SMOB’s rights. Student voice has already won. Students are signing petitions and voicing their opinions in support of the current Student Member of the Board and of student representation in general. Show your support for the SMOB and take action to protect student voice by signing this petition.