Montgomery County's first student school board member recently accused the board's senior members of excessive factionalism and of lacking compassion for school staff members, who, he said, are becoming increasingly paranoid.
In prepared remarks, David Naimon, 18, reflected on his one-year board member ship before the inauguration of his successor, Jonathan Paul, a Winston Churchill High School senior.
"In the end ... we have to put aside our labels of liberal, moderate or conservative, forget the alliances and factions of the board and make independent decisions," Naimon said. "The art of compromise has been missing from the board table for too long."
Two years ago, after years of debate the Maryland State Legislature passed a law making it possible for students to be nonvoting members of local school boards.
Naimon, like Paul, was elected by county student leaders. During his tenure, Naimon, by his own admission, spent most of his time trying to make other board members aware that he had all the rights they have, except for voting.
He said he made sure the board's secretary recorded his stand on each vote. He asserted his right to attend executive sessions. He said he repeatedly instructed board president Marian Greenblatt on proper parliamentary procedure, using Robert's Rules of Order for support.
And, to the irritation of some board members, the outspoken Naimon, who graduated from Northwood High School and will attend Princeton University next year, won several victories for his student constituents.
Last month, for instance, he won the right to distribute diplomas at high school graduation. Greenblatt argued against the move, and the issue was put to a vote.
Naimon, who plans to study political science in college, said his political "coming of age" came last January during a heated board debate over the merits of a mandatory black studies course for school employes.
Arguing against the board majority's resolve to abolish the course, Naimon read portions of a letter he received from a retired school teacher in which racial expletives were used.
"I wanted to show that the majority was creating a situation where it was all right for racists to come out of the closet," he said. "It was a lonely feeling. I stood my ground, but I got a lot of criticism from people who didn't agree with what I'd done."
"The students really realized they had a spokesman on the board," board member Daryl Shaw said. "It made them watch what the system was doing. David knew how students would react when we took action on students' rights matters and course offerings."
Greeblatt said recently, however, that she still thinks a student board position was unnecessary. "We have enough student government organizations to adequately represent students," Greenblatt said. "They don't have to actually be on the board."
Naimon, of course, disagreed. "The only way students could go to the board was if they were invited," he said. "And this board isn't going to invite students."
In his speech, Naimon said, "I have noticed an atmosphere of paranoia beginning to surround the school system. Board members, including myself, have attacked the motives, competence and opinions of staff who disagreed with them or were simply following unpopular board policies.
"Staff," he said, "have been afraid to assert their true opinions for fear of losing their jobs."
Naimon said it was unfortunate that many board members don't have children in school and have been out of school themselves for 20 years. He said the board majority's attempts to refocus attention on basic subjects may result in a "subtle downgrading" of the arts, government, business and "just human kindness and decency.
"Not all children are alike; not all children are like those of board members," he said.
Greenblatt later disputed Naimon's comments and said he might change his philosophy after four years at Princeton.
"I really wonder whether he'll feel the same," Greenblatt said. "I think he's going to find an academic challenge he hasn't found before."