Governor signs legislation backing student board rights

Governor signs legislation backing student board rights

(Calif.) The formal status of students serving in advisory roles on local district boards will be enhanced under legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this week.

SB 468 by state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, requires that meeting documents and briefings that district staff may offer to the rest of the governing board must be equally extended to student members.

Another bill, AB 261 from Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, clarifies in the state education code that student appointees to school boards have the right to cast preferential or advisory votes on all items pending before the panel that the law allows.

Two years ago, Brown signed another Leyva bill that requires a governing school board to act “upon receipt” of a qualified petition from students aimed at triggering an appointment.

Dr. June Thompson, executive director of the California Association of Student Councils–which sponsored all three bills—said ensuring that students are represented where the decisions about schools are made is critically important.

“Every place where our students are represented, we want to make sure that they are fully informed and supported in doing the best job possible,” she said Wednesday.

For decades, state law has authorized high school students to petition the governing board to appoint a representative chosen by the pupils to participate on the panel. The term of the student member is one-year.

Existing law defines preferential voting as a formal expression of opinion that must be recorded in the board’s official minutes, although a preferential vote is not counted. Student board members also have the right to attend and participate in all board meetings except in closed session.

According to Thurmond’s office, there was a need for the education code to explicitly provide for the student’s right to cast the preferential vote because some districts were relegating the student member to non-voting or reporting status.

“By ensuring student opinion is represented in an official capacity, trustees of the local school board shall be provided a formal point of reference for student need, allowing them to make decisions that reflect more accurately the needs and wants of the students,” Thurmond said in a statement.

Leyva’s latest bill is also an effort to protect student representation before the governing board. At an informational hearing earlier this year, representatives of the Association of Student Councils told lawmakers of reports from their members that some were being treated unequally when it came to the distribution of board documents and staff communications.

“Although these student board members were integral to meetings, they were not given the tools they needed to accurately represent the student body,” according to a memo from Leyva’s office.

By approving her bill, she said, local boards will have a more thoughtful deliberation during the decision-making process. “As a result, school boards will have a wider range of perspectives to consider,” she said in a statement. “Without this ability, student board members are unable to fulfill their roles as mediators between students and the administration.”

In 2015, Leyva sought to close another loophole in the process after one district board ignored a student petition that would have otherwise triggered a student appointment.