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School Boards Could Learn From Students

Bill would give the consumers of education a voice.

September 25, 2004|Andrew Steinberg | Andrew Steinberg, who was a student board member of the Beverly Hills Unified School District for the 2003-04 term, is a freshman at Yale University.

Close your eyes and imagine living in a congressional district with no congressman. Imagine that not only is there no congressman, but there is no one to represent you or your community when decisions are being made -- decisions that have a huge effect on your community and directly affect your daily life. Now imagine that your district is not unique, that fully half of all congressional districts in California have no congressmen, nor anyone else to represent their interests or perspectives to a government that is supposed to represent them.

For California's students this is not a troubling dream. This is reality.

According to the California School Boards Assn., approximately half of California's school boards lack a student member to represent their district's students. At every meeting, decisions are made by board members who have never attended the schools they are representing.

A representative democracy is an integral component of American government. The issue of representation was important enough to the founding fathers that they were willing to put everything on the line, risking their property, livelihoods and lives in order to establish a government in which they could have their voices heard.

The purpose of public education is to educate students, and school board members are the trustees of that educational institution. However, most of these trustees have not been students in decades. These board members cannot be expected to know how the policy decisions they make will affect students on a daily basis.

Although there are many avenues that can be pursued to give students a fair voice in their school system, one proposal stands out: AB 1897, a bill that would ensure that students have representatives on the school boards of all California school districts.

California has already demonstrated its belief in students by placing a student member on the state Board of Education and granting that student member full voting rights. Some question why we can't let each school board decide whether to have a student member. Local school boards should be able to make decisions on issues that affect them so that they can make regulations that are applicable to their districts.

However, in America, democracy and equitable representation are unshakable truths. They cannot be left to local boards to be either embraced or rejected. California must ensure that all students from all districts have representation and a meaningful voice on their school boards.

Moreover, a student board member can work within his or her district to ensure that students have a place on school committees, and an equitable and respected voice in their schools. This student input can lead to positive reform of our public school system from the inside. As has been clearly demonstrated by California's dismal standardized testing results, our schools need all the help they can get.

Let's hear from the consumers of education. Let's utilize the potential contributions of a group that is being systematically left behind. Let's work together to give students the tools they need to help themselves.

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