In an effort to give voice to Utah public school students, the Utah State Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to create a student advisory council to provide input to the board.
Jordan Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In an effort to give voice to Utah public school students, the Utah State Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to create a student advisory council to provide input to the board.

The council, to be made up of 15 high school juniors and seniors, will represent the same geographical areas as the elected State School Board members.

“The board makes better decisions when we hear many different points of view, and the students’ viewpoint is one that we have been missing. Their perspective is incredibly valuable,” said board member Linda Hansen, who proposed the council to the board after Kate De Groote, a senior at Skyline High School, presented the idea to her.

“When the education community listens to all voices, it is more cohesive and that is when we see the very best things happen in education," Hansen said.

The council is expected to meet at least six times this school year, three of the meetings in person and three electronically.

De Groote said she was excited that the board policy passed unanimously and that the board appreciates the value of student representation.

"I think the student advisory council is vital and will bring a unique perspective to the board, while enabling them to make the best decisions for all the students in Utah," she said.

Applications will be accepted through Oct. 5. To apply, students should visit the following link for more information: https://schools.utah.gov/board/participation/advisorygroups/sac.

Although the board approved the student advisory council unanimously, some board members questioned whether it would be a more meaningful experience to create a position in which a nonvoting student member of the State School Board would attend its monthly meetings.

"I personally have some hesitation about this," said board member Carol Lear. "I felt like one student participating in a board meeting (who) didn't vote would be a really meaningful contribution."

De Groote said she had initially suggested a nonvoting student member of the board "but it was decided that students would have a bigger influence if there were more of them because each student has a perspective and experience that is all their own."

One option may be to have a student liaison from the council report directly to the State School Board "so board members can hear directly from the (council) and not just a report delivered by an adult adviser," she said.

Across the country, states take varying approaches to student participation in state school board processes ranging from advisory groups to students who are appointed by the board by their governor 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.

The student advisory council adopted by the Utah State Board of Education will be made up of eight 11th-graders and seven 12th-graders. The seniors will serve one term while the juniors would be asked to serve two to help with the continuity of the council.

Students served on some local school boards in Utah but the state-level student advisory council is the first of its kind in the state, according to spokesman Mark Peterson.

The Salt Lake City Board of Education, for example, has had a nonvoting student member who serves for one year each for at least 25 years.