June 16, 2012

THE PRINCE GEORGE’S County Board of Education caused quite a stir this month when it considered a policy that would bar its student member from attending its executive sessions.

Maryland is one of the only states in the country that allows students to sit on school boards. Although most student members don’t have voting rights on issues related to personnel matters, the budget or collective bargaining, each locality gets to decide the extent of their involvement.

Montgomery County, for instance, lets its student member attend executive sessions and vote on a limited number of issues, including the hiring of a superintendent; Anne Arundel County grants its student member both attendance in executive sessions and full voting rights. By contrast, Prince George’s, since its elected school board was reinstated in 2006, has no clearly defined policy in place that outlines the role its student member plays.

That is certainly something the board should address and a legitimate topic for its attention. It’s also entirely understandable that the board would wish to institute a policy that would limit student participation, especially in terms of confidentiality on sensitive issues. But now is not the time to have that conversation.

As The Post’s Ovetta Wiggins reported on Monday, the board’s next student member is the sister of the candidate running against its chairman, Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5). To say the least, the optics of the situation aren’t ideal. The last thing the board needs is to seem to return to the old days of petty politics and internal squabbling, which caused it to be disbanded by the General Assembly 10 years ago.

Luckily, Prince George’s has a superintendent, William R. Hite Jr., with a much-needed vision for Maryland’s second-largest school system. Since 2006, the board has been managing that system relatively smoothly and competently. While it does need an official policy detailing the role of its student representative, its first priority should be maintaining the trust of the county it represents.