SALT LAKE CITY — The State School Board is considering creating a student council of high school juniors and seniors to advise the board on a wide array of issues such as college readiness, school climate and at-risk behaviors including suicide.
A Utah State Board of Education committee on Friday endorsed a board policy that would create the student advisory council, which could include up to 15 members. The proposal must be considered by the full school board, possibly next month.
Kate De Groote, who is entering her senior year at Skyline High School, proposed the idea to Linda Hansen, the state school board member whose district includes the Granite School District.
De Groote told the full board on Thursday that student representation is vital.
"Students have a unique perspective. After all, we're the ones who personally know what goes on in high schools around Utah, and we provide insight that not even educators or administrators have. We know what works and what doesn't. We are the ones who witness school bullying and what kind of teaching is the best," De Groote said.
It is important that people in positions of power understand the effects of their decision-making, she said.
"Students provide an invaluable voice. There are only benefits in having our input. We're educated, aware of the issues and excited to speak for the 650,000 students in Utah schools," De Groote said.
De Groote, who serves as West Valley City's youth mayor, said she recently learned about student advisory councils from peers out of state whose states have either student state school board members or advisory groups.
"When I realized such a council didn't exist (in Utah), I brought up the idea to my board rep, Miss Hansen, and we have been working on this proposal along with others here at the state department of education ever since," she said.
Utah's state board is considering an advisory board model. In a few states, student members who serve on school boards are selected by their state governors and have full voting rights.
In Maryland, the student board member is appointed by the governor and the appointment is confirmed by the state Senate. The student can vote on most matters except disciplinary actions or certain appeals.
According to a spreadsheet prepared by State School Board staff, most states have some form of student advisers to respective state school boards. They are a mix of advisory councils and student board members, although most have no or limited voting rights.
The proposal before the Utah State Board of Education contemplates a student advisory council of eight 11th-graders and seven 12th-graders. The seniors will serve one term while the juniors would be asked to serve two, according to the proposal. Some local school boards also have student members.
Students have served on local school boards in Utah. The Salt Lake City Board of Education has had a nonvoting student member for at least 25 years.
In higher education, college students have served on the Utah State Board of Regents for more than 40 years.
Interested college students apply to the Utah Student Association, which are made up of the student body presidents of state colleges and universities. That group narrows the field to three candidates and submits their names to the governor for his or her selection. One student regent is selected each academic year.
Student regents have full voting rights, participate in presidential searches and serve one-year terms, said Melanie Heath, spokewoman for the Utah System of Higher Education.
The State School Board policy and application are a work in progress, so it is unclear if the advisory council will be in place during the coming school year.
The board has yet to determine how student board members will be reimbursed for mileage or offered per diem or lodging.
De Groote urged the State School Board committee to follow the lead of other states and move ahead with an advisory council.
"Many states already have student representation and utilize the power of student voices. They understand having students involved make communities and schools better places," she said.