This fall, Manchester will ask voters whether they support the idea of creating a seat on the school board for a student. The student would have the right to participate in all school board deliberations and discussions. However, they would not be able to cast a vote in school board decisions.
The ballot question wouldn’t be binding – even if a majority of voters are in favor of it, the school board would still have a choice whether to adopt it. If the board does decide to approve it, a set of four students would rotate sitting on the board from week to week.
A national trend
Manchester wouldn’t be the first city to make this change. In 2014, the Los Angeles school district added a seat for a student. The student board member can participate in all the board’s meetings but does not have voting rights. A similar change was made in Philadelphia.
Why put students on school boards?
Many teenagers do understand the issues that impact their education, from homework policies to setting a budget. They would bring a unique perspective to the table.
School boards are also one of our nation’s only elected government bodies where the people being represented – the students – can't cast a vote for the people who will represent them. By creating a student seat, students would be guaranteed to have a say on decisions that will impact them more than anyone.
Potential problems with student school board members
Students already have ways of giving input to the school board, such as by attending public meetings, asking questions and making comments.
Teenagers aren’t considered mature enough to vote or even buy a pack of cigarettes. Is it therefore realistic to expect them to make smart decisions about complex issues like bonds or negotiating with teachers’ unions?
Putting students on the school board also raises potential problems with conflicts of interest. Many boards won’t even let people with family members who work in schools serve. Students have even more of a personal investment in the board’s decisions.