Montclair students call for student representation on Board of Education
By ERIN ROLL
Montclair’s Board of Education is currently comprised of adults, all appointed by Mayor Robert Jackson. A student may be among their membership in the future, however.
At the Nov. 18 BOE meeting, Montclair High School students Genesis Whitlock, Shayla George and Ally Godsil explained the need for student representation on the board.
The students described a deep-seated perception among the students that the central office and administration isn’t hearing their concerns. Having at least one student voice on the board would help, the students contend.
The students pointed to the South End busing issue as one in which their concerns are not being heard. The lack of bussing from the area is a contributing factor in chronic absenteeism rates in the schools, they said. Students also have concerns over the district’s policies on what constitutes an excused absence.
Having a student voice on the board, would help the BOE and administration be more aware of student issues. “Emails and flyers aren’t enough,” George said.
Interim Superintendent Nathan Parker said he understood the students’ concerns about being heard at the district level.
At the start of his tenure as interim superintendent this year, Parker met with a group of 28 MHS students. For many of them, he said, it was the first time they could recall someone from the district’s central office coming in to speak to them.
Student representation on the BOE has come up at various times in the past. Board member Jessica de Koninck said that at one point, the BOE put together a policy on student representation on the board. But for various reasons, the policy did not move forward, she said.
De Koninck said she would try to bring the policy forward again this year. “I, for one, feel very strongly to having a student voice on the board,” de Koninck said.
According to the nonprofit SoundOut.org, which encourages and assists student involvement in school district matters, since 1972 New Jersey has encouraged school districts to allow students to serve on school boards. As of 2015, about 60 percent of New Jersey school districts had at least one student representative, or had student voices taken into consideration in some capacity, according to the organization.
Janet Bamford, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said the NJSBA does not have an exact count of New Jersey school boards that have student representation, but she said the districts that do have found it valuable. Some of the New Jersey districts that currently have student representation are Newark, Highland Park, Holmdel Township, Livingston, Hamilton Township, Bridgewater-Raritan, Egg Harbor Township, Ocean City and Collingswood, Bamford said.
The State Board of Education also has a student representative, she said.
In Livingston, according to that district’s BOE policies, a student representative must be either a sophomore or junior, and have been registered as a student in the district for at least two years. That student can not be involved in any adverse actions against the BOE or the district, including claims or litigation. The student representative’s duties include receiving and reviewing board agendas, attending board meetings, conveying the student body’s concerns to the board, and then relaying the board’s discussions back to the students. However, students are not allowed to participate in discussions of sensitive topics, including personnel issues.
Montville also selects two student representatives, with those students being the senior class president and the president of the student council, according to that district’s policies. The representatives’ duties are similar to those in Livingston.