The Berkeley Unified School District Board voted at its Wednesday meeting to approve spending up to $20,000 to retain an attorney who will help grant 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in board elections.
Four Berkeley High School, or BHS, seniors represented the Vote 16 – Berkeley campaign at the meeting. Vote 16 – Berkeley advocated for the approval of Measure Y1, which, in 2016, authorized the Berkeley City Council to adopt an ordinance granting 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote for the board.
Since its approval, the Vote 16 – Berkeley committee has worked to implement 16- and 17-year-old participation in school board elections. At the meeting, Committee Lead Organizer and BHS senior Melina Fike reported that committee members met with the Alameda County registrar of voters and determined that voting for minors can most likely be implemented by 2020.
“We were really ready to come into 2018 and the school year and prepare for successful implementation,” Fike said at the meeting. “So that was a little bit disappointing, although we are hopeful that it will happen in 2020.”
The committee representatives requested the district retain an attorney to better understand Measure Y1, the logistical issues that may arise in implementing voting for minors and the cost of implementation.
The board voted unanimously to approve retaining an attorney.
Board member Ty Alper said at the meeting that his only concern is the overall cost of implementing underage voting. Because the board will have already invested money in an attorney, he raised concerns that it may have to go forward with the process even if the ultimate price tag is too high.
Fike said the committee will revisit next steps once it meets with legal counsel and that it plans to meet again with the Alameda County registrar of voters in early 2019.
“We feel recharged and invigorated to keep moving forward,” Fike said.
Also at the meeting, educators from the new BHS “Universal 9th Grade,” or U9, presented the program’s progress. The program, which was implemented this year, breaks ninth-grade students into seven “hives,” each centered around a value, such as “growth” or “justice.” The program postpones the students’ selection of a “small school” until 10th grade. The BHS “small school” program has been criticized for encouraging ethnic disparities.
The hives are designed to be diverse, with similar numbers of students who are English learners, of varying ethnic groups and enrolled in specific programs such as advanced math or special education across each hive.
“When I hear about the U9, … I really start crying,” BUSD Board Vice President Judy Appel said. “I am so proud that we’re doing this, and I already see that it’s changing lives.”