Two Howard County, Maryland residents aim to challenge the county’s system that allows children who attend public schools, but not those who attend private religious schools, to vote for a student member of the board of education.
Two Howard County, Maryland residents have filed a proposed class action aiming to challenge the county’s system that allows children who attend public schools, but not those who attend private religious schools, to vote for a student member of the board of education.
The 17-page lawsuit says that while adults are responsible for casting votes for seven of the eight members of the Howard County Board of Education, public school students as young as 11 years old are responsible for voting for the eighth board member – a high school student who “can vote on most issues of critical public importance” and enjoys the same power as board members elected by county taxpayers, the case relays.
According to the complaint, only juniors or seniors from a Howard County public high school are eligible to fill the student board of education seat. Juniors or seniors at religious high schools and private non-religious high schools, as well as those who are homeschooled, are not eligible to be board of education members, the case says.
The lawsuit admonishes that the board of education voting process afforded to public school students “more closely resembl[es] that of filling a homecoming court or student council,” and argues that the board of education vote and the responsibilities of the individual who fills the seat are too important to be left in the hands of minors who are “flatly ineligible to vote for elected officials for government bodies” under the Maryland Constitution.
Moreover, the public school student voting process is anything but genuine, the suit says, adding that students cast their votes “under the close oversight, involvement and control of the school-district administrators and employees who are directly impacted by the Board’s actions.”
Specifically, the suit says that the nomination process for the student member of the board of education relies heavily on input from the Howard County Association of Student Councils advisor, the principals of each of the county’s 12 high school and 20 middle schools, a counselor or advisor from each high school and middle school, and the county’s public school superintendent. The case says there is no legal requirement that board employees or administrators involved in the election for the student member be a resident or registered voter of Howard County.
Overall, allowing children from public schools to decide who fills the eighth and final seat on the Howard County Board of Education causes a “malapportionment” of political power, improperly allocates political power to minors, and violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the putative class action claims.
“[T]he Board operates the Howard County Public School System (‘HCPSS’), responsible for educating nearly 60,000 students in 77 schools and overseeing combined annual operating and capital budgets of nearly $1 billion in taxpayer funds. Howard County’s eligible adult voters elect seven of the Board’s members, but they get no say whatsoever on an eighth member elected by students attending public schools,” the complaint states, adding that the defendant has ultimately “created a preferred class of voters who are afforded greater representation on the board” by limiting eligible votes for the student member representative to HCPSS students in grades six through 11.
The lawsuit further alleges the defendant has “shielded the election procedures” for the student board of education member from compliance with any of Maryland’s procedures designed to protect the integrity of elections.
The lawsuit looks to represent a proposed class that includes all registered voters in Howard County and those who are eligible to attend grades 6 to 12 in the county but instead attend religious schools or are homeschooled, in some part, for religious purposes.
“As a consequence of Defendants’ actions, members of this class are unable to vote in the election of the Student Member on the Howard County Board of Education,” the suit claims.
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