Prince George’s school board could curb student member’s role -- Gazette.Net







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This story was updated 2:08 p.m., June 12, 2012.

The Prince George’s County school board could move to limit the role of its student member in executive session meetings and discussions on issues such as budgets and personnel.

The policy change, now in draft form, would require the board’s nine elected members to invite, by a majority vote, the student board member to attend any executive session meeting and would bar the student member from participating in discussions on topics on which he or she cannot vote, such as capital and operating budgets and collective bargaining agreements, said school board member Edward Burroughs III (Dist. 8).

The possible change, discussed during a June 4 policy meeting, would put the board in line with state law, said board chairwoman Verjeana M. Jacobs (Dist. 5).

Maryland law says the student member of the Prince George’s County school board must be invited by a vote to attend an executive session that deals with appeals of special education placements, collective bargaining or hearings on the dismissal or suspension of principals, teachers and other professional staff, according to the 2010 Maryland Code.

Both Burroughs and Jacobs said the proposal, which is not mandated by the state, could be formally heard by the board at one of its two meetings this month or discussion could resume in August, after the board’s six-week break.

Shabnam Ahmed, a rising senior at Bowie High School, was elected in May to replace outgoing student board member Faith Jackson, a graduate of Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale. Ahmed, who said she is scheduled to be sworn in Aug. 15, said the possible changes to her role are concerning.

“Our motto in Prince George’s County is ‘Children Come First,’ and by limiting the role of the student member... it seems as if we are restricting the voices of those who make up the majority of the county and whose overall success matters to the board,” Ahmed wrote in an email to The Gazette.

The board’s executive sessions often include discussion of sensitive subjects in which it may not be appropriate for the student board member to participate, Jacobs said, citing possible cases of pornography use by a staff member or the discipline of a classmate of the student member.

“Do we want students sitting in sessions where they’re listening to, and in some cases, attempting to provide input, to these kinds of issues?” Jacobs said.

But Burroughs, as well as long-time school board watcher David Cahn, said the board cannot bar the student member from attending an executive session meeting that does not deal with one of the three criteria listed in the Maryland Code.

“The board has the right to bar the student board member, but only on those issues,” said Burroughs, who served two one-year terms as the student member before being elected in 2010 to represent District 8. “The student board member provides such a valuable perspective ... and under this policy, it doesn’t give the student board member the opportunity to participate.”

Cahn, the co-chairman of Citizens for an Elected Board, faulted internal board politics and the tendency of student board members not to toe the majority line for the proposal.

“This proposal is illegal, immoral and they are trying to clip the wings of the student member,” he said. “There are some people that don’t like young people having a voice.”

Board attorney Abbey G. Hairston was not immediately available for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The current policy, last reviewed in 2005, of the Prince George’s school board is to grant “full participation in all discussions of the Board convened in regular meetings and/or work sessions.”

Some, including Burroughs, said the timing of the proposal — five months before Ahmed’s older sister, college student Raaheela Ahmed of Bowie, challenges Jacobs for the District 5 seat — gives the appearance that the change is politically motivated.

But Jacobs said there’s no connection, saying the board has been discussing guidelines for the student member since 2006, and the proposal coincides with the end of the student member term on June 30.