When the superintendent of Lexington, Kentucky public schools resigned in the fall of 2014, the Student Voice Team asked the district school board for a student to be added to the superintendent screening committee, a body which interviews and recommends a candidate to be hired. The screening committee includes teachers, parents, administrators, employees, and board members but no students. When the district school board explained a student couldn’t be added because the membership was set by Kentucky law, the Student Voice Team set out to change it.
In the 2015 legislative session that winter, the Student Voice Team wrote and fought for House Bill 236. Members wrote op-eds about why students should shape education policy, why students should be on search committees, and why confidentiality concerns were misplaced. The students testified in the House and Senate Education Committees.
Yes, I am young. But that’s the thing about student voice. You have to be a student!
Students testify in front of the Senate Education Committee with Rep. Derrick Graham (center)
The bill was passed by the House, but received strong resistance in the Senate and was in danger of failing because of two unrelated amendments. Supporters spoke out on social media with the hashtags #standwithstudents and #saveourbill, urging the Senate to remove the amendments and pass the bill. To show the senators there was support for the bill, the Student Voice Team organized a rally on the Capitol steps. Several elected officials attended the rally, including Secretary of State Alison Grimes.
Three hundred supporters showed up to the rally. Ashton Bishop, an eighth grade student, said:
“Yes, I am young. But that’s the thing about student voice. You have to be a student! HB 236 stands for everything student voice is. HB 236 will give students a chance to have a voice in the selection process of a superintendent, one of the most important leaders in any school system. Students who are selected by peers for this position would have a chance to work with adult allies, side by side, to improve their schools. As students, we know firsthand how so many of the decisions made at an administrative level affect us. We are on the front lines and in the classroom almost every day!”
The bill ultimately failed, but it wasn’t a setback for the movement.