Student Trustees Would Be Mandatory Under Senate Bill 272

By Heather Castillo
Here at Leasor Crass, we are keeping a close eye on the bills being filed for the upcoming Texas legislative session which will either directly affect or have some impact on our clients.

Filed on December 30, 2020, Senate Bill 272 really caught our attention. It requires a school district board of trustees to create a nonvoting student trustee position on the board. The text of SB 272 can be found here.

SB 272 seeks to repeal Texas Education Code section 11.0511 which gives the board of trustees of a district with a school operating under a campus turnaround plan the option to create a nonvoting student trustee position. TEC 11.0511 states that such a student trustee may not participate in board meeting closed sessions when issues related to personnel matters are considered. Further, if a board chooses to create this student trustee position, the board must adopt a policy regarding how the student trustee will participate in board deliberations and ensuring that the student trustee’s access to information, documents and records is consistent with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”).

Unlike TEC 11.0511, SB 272 requires all school districts to have a nonvoting student trustee. Further, SB 272 does not provide any mechanism for addressing how the student trustee will participate in deliberations, what kind of access the student trustee will have to confidential student or personnel information, or contain a prohibition for participating in closed session when personnel matters are involved.

Under SB 272, the Commissioner must develop an application for the position of student trustee. Each year, starting with the 2021-2022 school year, high school principals must solicit applicants for the position using the Commissioner’s form application and then select three applicants to recommend to the board of trustees. The board president will then select two or more applicants from those recommended by the high school principal(s). The board, by majority vote, appoints one of the finalists chosen by the board president to serve a one-year term. During the term, the student trustee must remain enrolled in school and maintain at least a 2.5 GPA. SB 272 states that the student trustee is not a member of the board, but “has the same powers and duties as a member of the board, including the right to attend and participate in meetings” with the exception of having the right to vote and to be counted when determining whether a quorum exists for a board meeting. The student trustee is also “entitled to reimbursement for actual expenses incurred by the student in attending meetings of the board,” subject to the board president’s approval.

Students serving in an advisory capacity to school boards is relatively common now and being part of the governance process can provide invaluable civics lessons to students. In a few rare cases, students have even served as fully participating school board members who vote on nearly all board matters. The two links below share additional information on this topic.

However, in the rare cases found in the links, there was no legislative mandate to create these student trustee positions.

We will be watching SB 272 to see whether it makes progress during the upcoming legislative session. If you have questions about SB 272 or any other proposed legislation and how it might affect your school district, please do not hesitate to contact any of the Leasor Crass attorneys.

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