Let's give students a real voice on BOE
Remember why, in 1988, the the state school board named its first student member?
It was to bring the student voice into the Board of Education actions that affect them. But it's not much of a democratic gesture if, at the point when members are casting their "yea" or "nay" votes, that voice falls silent.
Senate bills 798 and 799 seek to give voting rights to the student representative. One would amend state law; the other would put a constitutional amendment up for a vote on the 2010 ballot.
This action is long overdue. Hawai'i has an abysmal record of civic engagement. If there is hope of reversing the trend in the next generation, letting the soon-to-be-adults truly participate in government would seem a logical step to take.
The student member, one of 14 on the board, would still be chosen by the Hawai'i State Student Council. Some legitimate concerns have been raised by current board members. One worry is exposing a legal minor to liability in personnel matters. Board member Karen Knudsen recalled one firing culminating in a lawsuit in which board members were named individually.
Because there are complications that lawmakers can't fully anticipate, lawmakers sensibly inserted language enabling the BOE later to set rules that would govern — perhaps limit — the student's voting rights.
But for now the correct move is to pass these bills and send a strong message to youth: Your voice will be heard. The students' duty will be to choose a delegate who is also capable of listening and acting with maturity.