New Legislation Gives Rights to Student School Board Members
Under Education Code section 35012, a school district must appoint a student school board member upon receiving a petition signed by 10% of high school students in the district or 500 high school students, whichever is less, requesting student representation on the governing board. The current law also allows for submission of a student petition, whether at the same time or separate from the petition for representation, requesting the board allow the student board member(s) to cast a preferential vote. The student’s preferential vote is recorded in the board meeting minutes but does not play a role in determining the final outcome of a vote.
The current law provides that the student member shall sit with the governing board at board meetings, receive "all materials presented to the board members" and participate "in the questioning of witnesses and the discussion of issues." (Education Code § 35012(d)(9).)
Senate Bill (SB) 468 modifies the statute to require school boards to provide student board members with copies of open meeting materials "at the same time the materials are presented to the board members"; student board members are still not privy to closed session materials. SB 468 also requires governing boards to invite the student member to staff briefings provided to board members or to provide a separate staff briefing within the same timeframe as the staff briefing of board members.
The bill’s author, Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino), introduced SB 468 as a result of student testimony at a Senate Education Committee hearing in February 2017, where students conveyed they were not given the tools they needed to accurately represent the student body. Senator Leyva noted SB 468 codifies the best practice already employed by some school boards of providing student board members with materials and briefings prior to board meetings. Under current law, there is no requirement that school boards share materials or provide staff assistance to student members.
Because student school board members are elected to one-year terms, they may lack the expertise need to make informed decisions on the complex issues and long-ranging policies and programs handled by governing boards. SB 468 is intended to allow student members to offer more informed opinions by ensuring they receive timely information and staff briefings to better understand the issues considered by the board, meaningfully contribute to board discussions, and make student voices heard.
The Governor signed SB 468 on September 25, 2017; the new law goes into effect on January 1, 2018. (Two days earlier, the Governor signed Assembly Bill (AB) 261, which eliminates the "nonvoting" status of student school board members and provides that all student school board members have preferential voting rights. AB 261 also becomes effective on January 1, 2018.)
Districts should begin revising internal processes so that by the effective date, they establish a process of giving student members copies of open session materials at the same time those materials are shared with board members. While SB 468 does not specify how the materials are to be delivered, using the same transmittal format as for board members will suffice.
Additionally, districts must invite student board members to any staff briefings (on open session matters) provided to board members, or arrange for a separate briefing. SB 468 does not specify that the briefing must be scheduled at the student member’s convenience but simply states the student must be "invited to staff briefings of board members or [be] provided a separate staff briefing within the same timeframe as the staff briefing of board members." Districts are advised to work with their student board members before January 1, 2018, to arrange for their attendance at briefings.