Board of Education considers measures on student voting, recess restrictions

Alice Langford/File

The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education endorsed state bills allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in school board elections and also further discussed concerns with a district recess restriction policy.

The board voted unanimously to urge state entities, as well as Gov. Jerry Brown, to approve Assembly Bill 2517, authored by Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, and Assembly Constitutional Amendment 7, authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego.

AB 2517, if passed, would permit a city or county to allow a person at least 16 years old to vote in the school district governing board elections, whereas, ACA 7 would amend the state constitution to automatically lower the voting age across the state to 16 for all school board elections.

Currently, an individual needs to be an 18-year-old California resident to be eligible to vote in school board elections.

Student director of the board and Berkeley High School student Angelo Paraiso-Arroyo said at the meeting that both bills would “allow (students) to vote for people who make policies and decisions that affect (them),” which he saw as of utmost importance to himself and his peers.

“Just to see the fact that in various places, the voter turnout is largely the younger crowd regardless of race, socioeconomic status,” Paraiso-Arroyo said at the meeting. “It matters to us, and we are making change every day across a number of topics, whether it be a walk or … protesting harassment. We are doing everything we can in order to help our school.”

Community members also continued to urge board members to revise an existing districtwide elementary recess policy.

Dana Clark, a parent, urged the board at the meeting to take action to rectify the problems of recess restriction implementations. She said that gathering more data is not “going far enough” to address what she sees as the problem at hand.

“Yes, you need better data collection method,” Clark said at the meeting. “But that doesn’t stop the known obvious problems of the implementation of the policy with respect to those (disproportionate) groups of students.”

The current policy requires a principle to notify a parent when a student receives a recess restriction twice in a week or three times in a month. Clark requested that schools notify parents when a student receives a recess restriction as a way to correct schools not reporting restrictions used.

“If a person restricting recess has to report to the parent, they are more likely to report it to the principal,” Clark said.

Board member Karen Hemphill emphasized the importance of parent notification because “the parent needs to be part of what’s being addressed.” Hemphill suggested that parents should be notified more often than what the policy requires.

“If a student receives a recess restriction twice in a month … then a parent should be notified, because it’s obviously (an) ongoing behavior that is not being addressed by the methods being used,” she said.

Sinead O’Sullivan, also a parent, requested that the board implement a policy prohibiting restrictions entirely. She pointed out that many teachers run their classes without implementing recess restrictions and said that those teachers should train others.

“The teachers, the ones who fought so hard to take our children’s recess away, have their right to upbraid written in their union contact,” O’Sullivan said. “Our children do not have a union to represent them. It is your job to protect them.”

The school district policy committee will make suggested changes to the language of the recess restriction policy and present the amended policy at the board’s next meeting.

Jason Tran covers schools and communities. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JasonTran_