The Role of the SMOB and Student Activism

This week, Student Member of the Board-elect Patrick Mikulis writes about the importance and privilege of student perspective in educational governance.

The SMOB, or Student Member of the Board, has been a part of the HCPSS Board of Education for decades now. Within the past ten years or so, the SMOB has gained a partial vote on board matters, which allows the Student Member to vote on almost everything, with the exception of restricted items like budget and negative personnel issues. The concept of a Student Member is one almost entirely unique to Maryland, mostly because most states organize education by towns and municipalities, rather than the county system we operate under. Even more interesting is the fact that each school district in Maryland has a different regulation regarding voting rights of their student members or student representatives (SROBs). In 11 counties, the Student Member simply gets to express his/her opinion but is not recorded at all. In 6 other counties, the SMOB’s opinion is recorded, but the vote is not counted in with the other school board members’. Along with Howard County are 5 other school districts as well as the Maryland State SMOB, all of whom have partial voting privileges of some sort. Anne Arundel County alone allows their SMOB to have full voting rights. Their student member is the only one in the nation to have this privilege and has had a full vote since 1972.

This past year, State Senator Ed Reilly sponsored SB194, which if passed would have reduced the Anne Arundel County SMOB’s voting rights down to partial, like Howard’s. The overwhelming negative response from students all over the state was eventually enough to cause the bill to be tabled, which is a clear sign that many people underestimate the power students collectively have. However as more and more states around the nation like Maine, Iowa, and Illinois begin including student representatives on their school boards, and as SMOB rights are expanded around the state, like in Harford County, it is essential for students to continue to raise their voices and become even more active within their communities. Students bring unique perspectives, and believe it or not, organizations like the Board of Education really do listen and change their policies based on what students say and do, just as much as— if not more than— how much they listen to adult members of the community. No adult testimony is a more powerful demonstration of the importance of the arts than a young girl playing her violin during Public Forum, and nothing an adult can say could compare to the heartfelt stories of students at Homewood who had overcome adversity.

Part of the reason our American system of government succeeds is that local communities are always involved in the decision making process. Students: now it is time to join the rest of the community in the legislative process. Make your voice heard about everything, not just that which pertains to students, because your opinion holds weight. Learn about legislation, attend an HCASC meeting, write a letter to an elected official. Do everything you can to make the world a better place, and not just within your own sphere. I promise to do the same, as a Student, and also as a Member of the Board.