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Commentary: Listen adults, it’s time for a student on the board

Cindy Figueroa | March 25, 2014

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Cindy FigueroaDo you know how many students attended the LAUSD school board meetings last month? In my circle of friends, you’d be lucky if a single person could name a school board member or tell you what the school board does.

As an active LAUSD student who cares about my community, I wonder how the second-largest district in the nation can make decisions about the futures of thousands of students without hearing our perspective on issues that matter. Most importantly, aren’t we the ones most affected by decisions on issues like the Common Core curriculum, school spending, iPads and new schools?

How can a school district that prides itself on leadership and preparing future citizens not have a seat for a student to exercise that leadership on the District level?

California Education Code states that governing boards have student representation. Also, students have the right to petition the board for that student representative to have an advisory vote if they collect more than 500 signatures.

LAUSD would not be alone in choosing a student representative. Over 200 districts in California have a student sitting on their schools board, including Oakland and San Francisco. There are hundreds more throughout the United States that have given students a seat at the table. Even our own State Board of Education has a high school student who participates on its board.

It’s time for LAUSD to come around.

Some may say we’re too young to help govern but we live the reality of the decisions the school board makes each day. To say we’re the most important product of the District and to deny us a seat to provide feedback seems like lip service. One day we will be the ones who run the city. Why not start now?

Take the new Local Control Funding Formula. Although the California Board of Education has stated that student voice is essential to decide how nearly a billion dollars should be spent to support academic performance, there isn’t much evidence that a large number of students’ opinions are being taken in consideration. If a student representative sat on the board, she or he could help design a student survey and engage other student leaders to weigh in.

A student could also voice concern about a District process that lacks student input. Currently, no one is championing students this way.

I am a part of a group of LAUSD high school student leaders who’ve come together to demand that student leadership go beyond event planning and school rallies. We need real decision-making power and space to discuss how students feel about important policies.

For the past seven months our group has held meetings, met with community leaders and come to the conclusion that it’s time an LAUSD student participates as a school board member and has an advisory vote to be heard. We are also pushing for a system where students at each high school are empowered to vote for representatives who will create a student senate that will ultimately choose the student board representative. Thus far, we have 1,000 student signatures and plan to collect more.

This is why we are supporting the Student Engagement and Empowerment resolution sponsored by board member Steve Zimmer. This will provide students an opportunity to get hands on experience, from researching various student representation models across California to meeting with school board members.

We know that the youth of Los Angeles are prepared to take active roles on our school board. Let’s make sure that student voices are included and recorded at the school board.

Our voices matter.

Cindy Figueroa is a junior at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies Magnet School and a United Way Student Fellow.


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