A day after winning a third term as Ward 1 alder, Sarah Eidelson ’12 was back at work Wednesday night, co-chairing a meeting of the Board of Alders’ Joint Education/Youth Services Committee.
The meeting was held to revise the procedure for electing high-school students to the Board of Education as non-voting members. The committee — tasked with overseeing the elections for the two student seats — decided to move election day from June to early April and to prohibit charter-school students from standing, but not voting, in the election. The changes were made to increase the number of students able to take part in the election process. The initiative is a mere five months old.
“What we found this past year is that [June elections] back up right against final exams, senior trips, all kinds of end-of-school events,” said New Haven Public Schools project manager Suzanne Lyons, who sits on the Committee on Student Elections.
The first student elections to the board took place in June after a multiyear push by Eidelson and other alders. Two students — a junior and a senior — sit on the board per school year. Lyons said that though state law prohibits them from voting, the student members are meant to perform as similar roles to full board members as is legally possible.
Kimberly Sullivan, a senior at The Sound School, and Hillhouse High School junior Coral Ortiz won the race against four other candidates in June, taking office the next month. Neither could attend Wednesday night’s meeting.
Lyons said Sullivan and Ortiz have spent their time on the Board speaking out on issues they find important.
“They are using their voices in good faith,” Lyons said. “But there is a learning curve, as you may imagine.”
Lyons said the committee supported the student members’ transition into the Board by hosting biweekly meetings with an NHPS civics teacher to learn more about their role in the city. She added that two full board members were also appointed to mentor the student members individually.
But not every New Haven student will have the opportunity to hold office. Lyons said the Board’s lack of legal authority over charter schools means students at such schools cannot be board members. Still, they will be able to vote if their school chooses not to participate in the process, she said.
Lyons added that charter-school students can also attend citywide student cabinet meetings and communicate with the student board members, whose role involves acting as a liaison between all NHPS students.
Fair Haven Alder Santiago Berrios-Bones asked, during the meeting, what the protocol would be when students are unable to finish their term. Fair Haven Heights Alder Rosa Santana said that since the ordinance does not explicitly address this question, the committee can decide on a case-by-case basis.
Lyons said a replacement election would likely be held, just as is the protocol for voting members.
Alders on the committee were enthusiastic about the elections and the proposed changes to the ordinance.
Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said the amendments will help the Board reach its full potential, adding that the student elections earlier this year had high levels of community involvement.
“I just think it was a great process and everybody learned from it, and it’s going to be a great experience for all kids to participate — starting early with civic engagement,” said West River Alder and Board President Tyisha Walker.
Nearly 60 percent of eligible New Haven high-school students voted in the first election.