Legislators Threaten Student and Teacher Roles on State Board of Education

Dunbar students opposed the Kentucky Senate Education Committee’s attempt to remove non-voting positions on the Board.


Screenshot by Sadie Bograd

Representative Steve Sheldon (R) sponsored the bill, which originally included students and teachers on the Board.

On Thursday, members of the Kentucky legislature’s Senate Education Committee attempted to remove the teacher and student non-voting members from the Kentucky Board of Education.

The Board of Education is responsible for developing and adopting the regulations that govern Kentucky’s educational system. Last year, the Kentucky Department of Education created an ex-officio non-voting student position on the Board. That position is currently held by Solyana Mesfin, a junior from Jefferson County. 

The Department also created an ex-officio non-voting position for one active elementary or secondary teacher. Allison Slone, a teacher from Rowan County, holds that position and is the first full-time teacher to serve on the Board. 

Now, Kentucky legislators are trying to eliminate both of those positions by amending House Bill 178, an act relating to the Kentucky Board of Education. 

Originally, the bill affirmed the Department of Education’s change by including the student and teacher positions, with term limits, in the Board’s official composition. In a meeting of the Senate Education Committee, the bill was amended to remove those positions. 

Senator Mike Wilson spoke in favor of the changes, saying that students and teachers had other opportunities to offer input that were less “political.”

Other legislators, though, supported having students and teachers on the Board. State Rep. Killian Timoney called the amendment a “bad change.”

“Having both of those members on the Board provides a perspective that is valuable and needed when discussing education issues,” he said.

The legislature must now reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill. 

Dunbar students reacted quickly in opposition to the attempts. 

In partnership with students and teachers from around the state, a handful of Dunbar students released a press statement explaining their opposition. They also launched a #SaveOurSeats social media campaign to oppose the changes and encouraged community members to sign on to their campaign.

“Students are an integral part of education decision-making from the classroom to the highest levels of politics,” senior Gabriella Staykova said. “As constituents of the legislature and as those most impacted by education policy, we deserve a seat on the Kentucky Board of Education, as do teachers.”

Solyana Mesfin, the current student on the Board, also expressed her disapproval.

“I know firsthand that when it comes to discussions held by the Board, the perspective a student brings to the conversation is critical and incomparable,” she said in a statement. “Students understand the impacts of the decisions school boards make because we live with them in a way that no one else does and we can serve as an important reality check.”

Local education policymakers stood in support of the students.

“Our legislature should spend the limited time of this short session on ensuring that public schools are fully funded and supported, not finding ways to limit the voices of stakeholders in decision making,” Tyler Murphy, Chair of the Fayette County School Board, said.

Dunbar teachers were also dismayed by the change to the bill.

“All stakeholders should have a voice,” social studies teacher Sharessa Crovo said. “What people are more impacted by educational decisions than teachers and students? Making decisions about education without the input of the two most critical pieces of the puzzle is like asking a plumber to do your electrical work. It doesn’t make any sense.”

HB 178 would also limit the governor’s power to reorganize the Board, and would require that the Board reflect proportional representation of Kentucky political parties. 

Kentucky’s legislative session ends on March 30.

Update: We updated this article at 7:39 p.m. on March 11 to include a quote from Tyler Murphy.

Update: We updated this article at 10:26 p.m. on March 13 to includes quotes from State Rep. Killian Timoney and Dunbar teacher Sharessa Crovo.

Co-Editor-in-Chief Brooke Abell and Chief Copyeditor Victoria Bravo contributed to this story.