Youth Movement

At a time when young people have taken leadership roles in the fight for sensible gun control, led the Black Lives Matter movement, and generally found new political activism, allowing them to have a voice at the local level is a logical next step. Guild Hall, for example, recently created a teen council, in which high school students receive a stipend for attending meetings to help shape cultural programs and build audiences of the future. That would be most obviously valuable in some form on school boards and perhaps in Town Hall.

There is a state precedent, of sorts. Students on the State University of New York’s 64 campuses vote each year for an executive board and student assembly president. The president automatically becomes a voting member of the SUNY board of trustees. This provides a conduit for undergraduate and graduate student opinion and ideas to reach the highest level of the state educational system.

Under state law, one must be 18 to run for school board, which would preclude most students from mounting a campaign. However, a student-elected representative could join in an advisory role. In most districts here, unelected superintendents sit with board members at meetings, often at the head of the table. Why not seat a young person whose peers believe he or she could represent them ably? Youth representatives could add a valuable perspective and enliven board discussions. 

Another important point about students’ involvement at school board meetings is representation, not just of the views of young people, but those of an expanding, new-resident demographic as well. 

In most districts, Latino participation in top-level policy discussions has been absent. If a student board participant from a largely Spanish-speaking household were selected, he or she could help bridge that gap. Moreover, the message to the immigrant communities that now make up a significant percentage of the school and towns’ populations would be one of welcome. Greater involvement could also lead to other forms of local government participation over time. For example, Latinos have been barely a presence in any of the East End towns’ leadership groups despite being an important presence in the region for more than two decades.

The Parkland student activists already have proven that youth can shift public policy. Giving our local kids a chance to make their influence felt is something worth working for.