The MCPS Board of Education (BOE) met Nov. 10, setting prerequisite health metrics that must be met to resume in-person classes and establishing tentative plans for when students return to the school building. The BOE voted to move forward with these plans Dec 15.
Ranging from the switch to digital learning, to the effects on their food security and mental health, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented situation for MCPS students. In the history of the public school system, there is no issue that more universally affects students than the potential return to school during the pandemic.
Due to the magnitude of this issue, MCPS should give the students the right to veto any reopening plan by majority vote, allowing students to have the final say. This vote could occur, in the form of an electronic survey, during students’ advisory periods.
Despite the fact that students are the primary stakeholders with their health, education, and food security on the line, the student voice is underrepresented in the BOE. MCPS has one Student Member of the Board (SMOB), Nick Asante, who is expected to represent the interests of the 162,000 students in the county. To his credit, Asante, who has full voting rights on the MCPS BOE, is communicative. Holding town halls, publishing regular newsletters and using his social media platform to gauge students’ reactions to matters of importance, Asante is actively voicing his opinions. However, his singular vote is an inadequate representation of the student body concerning the issue of reopening.
Student perspectives are shaped by their home lives, access to technology and other personal experiences. Asante is unable to become acquainted with each individual student’s circumstances; he cannot gauge every student’s opinion. Furthermore, he is heavily outnumbered by the adult members of the board who are completely unaccountable to the student population they are supposed to represent.
A majority veto is the best way to ensure that the student voice is being upheld during the reopening. Though it would hinder the BOE’s efficiency in crafting a reopening plan, it is likely that a reopening plan, much like the one proposed Nov. 8, based on science, clear metrics and student choice, would not face much opposition from the student body. However, considering the importance and universality of the reopening issue, it is not an assumption for the BOE to make. It is a decision for students to make.