Anthony Cruz stood before the Board of Education at its meeting on Jan. 9 to explain why he thinks a student should serve as a non-voting member of the Board of Education.
“If the Board approves of having a student on the Board of Education, students will feel like they are an integral part of making these decisions,” he said. “By giving a highly qualified student a non-voting position on the Board of Education, my classmates will feel empowered knowing that they have direct representation in matters that affect them most.”
Cruz, a junior at Central High School who serves as the school’s student council president, then handed the district’s secretary a petition signed by 447 students and teachers from all three high schools in the district. “It is something that the students in the district want,” Cruz told the Herald, adding that the Central High School Student Council created the petition to improve its advocacy for students.
Title II of New York State’s education law states that, as of 2005, central high school districts may set a referendum to add a qualified student to serve as a non-voting member of the school board. It further says that a district with more than one high school must have “fair representation among the schools,” and that a student would be allowed to “sit with the board members at all public meetings of the board and participate in all board hearings and meetings.”
Cruz’s petition goes further by arguing that a student representative should be able to attend executive sessions to better understand how the board reaches conclusions, although he acknowledged in a phone interview that he did not know whether that was legal. Cruz also said that he would like the student to present a statement at each board meeting about issues that students are facing at each of the schools. “A non-voting student would have the right to bring up their opinion,” he said.
The petition offers the school board a method to implement and choose a student board member. Under the petition’s sample board policy agreement, a representative would be chosen in May to serve a one-year term beginning in June and continuing through May of his or her senior year. Interested students would have to be a member of the student council and would have to apply. A committee consisting of a school’s principal, assistant principal and one guidance counselor would then choose one finalist from each school, and the superintendent would review the applications and make a final selection.
There would only be one student board member representing all four schools in the district, but Cruz said the student council is working to ensure that the representative would remain in contact with student council members from the other schools. He said that one suggestion is to have a district-wide student council comprised of members of each school’s student council and the representative for the school board.
Trustee Sean Douglas said that he was impressed with Cruz’s presentation. “I think it’s a good idea, but we have to discuss the legality of it and how we do it,” he said. “But I think it’s a great idea to get the students involved.”
Board of Education President Bill Stris said he agreed with Douglas’ sentiment. “I don’t see any problem with it,” he said. “The more input, the better. That’s the people we’re serving.”
Stris also said that the Board of Education would discuss the petition at its next committee meeting on Feb. 6.