LANCASTER — Antelope Valley Union High School District Board Vice President Victoria Ruffin went after newly elected student trustee Elijah Johnson at the incoming sophomore’s first Board as student representative Thursday morning, and said the Board should have more control over which students sit on the dais with them.
Johnson served on the Interschool Communication Council last year as a freshman leader on the Knight High School campus. He was elected by members of the Interschool Communication Council in May to serve as student trustee for the 2019-20 school year.
The Interschool Communication Council, or ICC, is an organization of high school student body representatives that meets to discuss ways to improve their schools, coordinate events, and present student ideas, opinions, and inquiries on important educational issues. Students sign up for ICC as a class, for which they receive a grade.
Ruffin sought to suspend Johnson’s tenure on the Board roughly an hour into his first meeting.
“I move that the Board suspend the current selection of student board member to allow an equitable districtwide student board member assembly that would operate in rotation of each one of its members,” Ruffin said. “I would like the Board to work on this and have this in place no later than the start of the second semester or if not sooner.”
However, because the item was on the agenda for discussion only, the Board could take no action.
Trustee John Rush suggested Ruffin’s motivation was former student trustee Noah Sveiven and less about inclusion than exclusion.
“Without trying and without that being his intention these people were humiliated. They want to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Rush said. “They want to control who sits up here and how well they can challenge it.”
Knight High teacher James Stockdale noted that Ruffin at one point suggested her daughter had a better coach when she was at Knight High.
“You know whose coach her daughter had? Eli’s father,” Stockdale said.
When Ruffin addressed the Littlerock Town Council on July 11, Ruffin said she wished her daughter had been dealt with better when she was in the ASB at Knight High.
“Do you know what teacher that was?” she asked. “Eli’s mother, so there’s definitely some background here and she has a reason not to want Eli Johnson on that board, and transparency’s important to understand this discussion.”
Ruffin cited the Interschool Communication Council constitution in her argument to get rid of Johnson.
“It says that a student rep shall be the highest ranking officer of ICC,” Ruffin said. “This is in conflict what I support was an equitable representation from all of our high schools.”
According to the Interschool Communication Council constitution, the current student board member must have been a member of the Interschool Communication Council for at least one year prior to running for the office. The constitution does not restrict students by grade level.
“Mr. Johnson does not meet this requirement,” Ruffin said. “It is my understanding that he is a freshman and that at the time of the alleged appointment by the student body of Antelope Valley Union High School District, he was in his freshman year, and this is not the prior year.”
Ruffin suggested Johnson’s “appointment” is a misalignment with the Interschool Communication Council’s constitution.
“So is it fair to say that ICC’s own constitution is unconstitutional?” Ruffin asked.
Ruffin also incorrectly interpreted a new state law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2018, regarding student representation on school district governing boards.
Under State Education Code 35012, Section 2 a school district governing board with no student representation must appoint a student board member upon receiving a student petition signed by at least 500 students, or not less than 10% of the number of students regularly enrolled in the District’s high schools, whichever is less, requesting the board allow the student board member to cast a preferential vote.
The law also states that “(a) majority vote of all voting board members shall be required to approve a motion to eliminate the pupil member position from the governing board of a school district.”
“This is supposed to be an equitable representation of all of our students. I am requesting an assembly of student board members, a total of 11, to represent our schools,” Ruffin said.
Ruffin suggested the District have one student from each comprehensive high school and SOAR High School, and one student from the three alternative school sites for a total of 11 student members.
“I am requesting, No. 2, that the Board should not approve this selection and we should investigate whether this election was done by our entire student body,” Ruffin said.
Ruffin added: “Three, in the meantime the Board should revise the bylaws to achieve a better result in terms of our ability to influence who sits on this dais with us.”
Ruffin suggested the Board could work with the Interschool Communication Council to amend provisions in its constitution on how student board members are elected.
“And if we’re not doing that, I again think that as a board we should look at our procedures for selecting student board members that would eliminate ICC as the procedure used to select the student board member,” Ruffin said.
Johnson defended his election.
“So I guess I’ll just start with the fact that ICC has elected a Board member and it is me. I was not appointed,” Johnson said.
Johnson then explained how ICC works. He noted the group is similar to the assembly Ruffin suggested.
“There are five members from each school that will go to ICC to represent their school, and then they will report to the Board member, or the leader of ICC, that will represent them on the Board,” Johnson said.
Johnson invited the Board to attend an ICC class to see how it works. The five members from each school decide together who they will vote for the student trustee, so that each school gets one vote.
“I did run against a couple of individuals to take this position,” Johnson said.
Johnson added he is in favor of including students from the alternative education sites.
“It’s my understanding that there were members from continuation schools that came five, six years ago, but they didn’t always show up,” Johnson said, adding that those students are not always permanent to the continuation school sites.
In addition, Johnson said cycling students in and out of the student trustee seat, as Ruffin suggested, would only silence student voices.
The District has had a student Board member since July 1989. Board Bylaw 9150 related to student board members was approved in September 2001.
Board Bylaw 9150 says the Board shall have at least one student member selected by the district’s high school students in accordance with procedures approved by the Board. The student board member’s role is to enhance communication between the Board and the student body and to encourage student involvement in District affairs.
Superintendent David Vierra said the ICC constitution is used to select the student Board member.
“You have a Board Bylaw over here, which does allow the Board, if they so choose, to have one or more student Board members if they choose to,’ Vierra said.
Vierra sought to clarify what the Board would like to see and what direction they wanted to take.
Trustee Jill McGrady asked why the Board is getting involved in the Interschool Communication Council.
“What’s your purpose?” McGrady said.
Board President Robert “Bob” Davis said he thinks it is important to have a student, or students, be part of the Board to hear their voice.
Davis asked that, since the first student board member was selected, whether the Board ratified or approved the student trustee each successive year.
“You approved the ICC constitution that sets forth the procedures for how the student board member is selected, and by allowing the student board member to sit, you’re implicitly approving it,”attorney Jay Fernow of Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost said.
Davis said he and Ruffin have talked about the representation of the District’s schools. He also talked about it with individuals within the District.
“I understand having one board member is very important, but realistically, can one board member represent all 20,000 students,” asked Davis, who represents the 40,469 registered voters in Trustee Area 3. “All 20,000 students have different needs. Each high school has its own culture.”
Davis added it is important to know what needs students at the different school sites have.
“I’m not here to eliminate the student board member,” Davis said. “I want this Board to have the discussion to be able to look at an addition of student board members. How many that is, I think the Board, we need to discuss that.”
Davis agreed with Ruffin that the change should be implemented by the start of the new year.
“I think it’s very, very healthy and very important that student board members have the opportunity. I think one year is a long time for one individual to sit here,” Davis said.
Davis was elected to the Board in November 2015. His term does not expire until November 2020.
“Are there students in the schools that would like to sit on this Board that don’t have the ability to do that? Davis asked.
Incoming Eastside High School senior Maegan Douglas, who served as ASB president last school year, said she and four other Eastside High student officers served on ICC last year.
“We speak on current issues, including issues with the Board, and we all come together and talk about it so it can be relayed to our student board member,” Douglas said. “Elijah was elected by us for a reason, and for you guys to try and suspend him being here is completely wrong. There is no reason for that. He was elected fairly.”
“That was a suggestion, not a try,” Davis said “And when you say ‘you guys,’ one individual suggested it. I just want to be clear in what you’re saying.”
Douglas said she understood.
“For one person to suggest that he be suspended, for whatever reason, I just feel like you guys don’t really understand what ICC is about,” Douglas said. “He accurately represents 20,000 students. I represent my school along with four other students.”
Ruffin then went after student Douglas.
Ruffin repeated the contention that the student board member must have served on ICC for one year prior to election. Then appeared to confuse the ICC constitution with an incorrect interpretation of State Education Code 35012, Section 2, and Board Bylaw 9150.
“Each school is allowed one vote for the rep,” Ruffin said. “The law for these bylaws from 9150 says the petition is supposed to be no less than 500 students from the entire student body as a minimum. Then the other alternative is 10% of the entire student population, which is 23,000 students. So that would be 2,300 students. If you are saying that you did this legally, there’s no petition that has been ever stated and that was ever done correctly.”
Ruffin also called out the Interschool Communication Council constitution.
“If you’re not willing to follow your own constitution, I’m alarmed,” Ruffin said. “I said a representative from each school. At five board members from each school of ICC, five times 13 is 60 students. So 60 students in comparison to the 500 that’s needed, or the 2,300, that’s not equity. This is a selective group. “I agree you guys do wonderful things.”
Ruffin added she believes they need a student board. But she said the process is not governed properly.
Johnson said every school is invited to participate in the Interschool Communication Council.
“The student board members sits on the Board from July 1 through June 30, so there cannot be a rotation of board members coming here,” Johnson said. “ICC, per their constitution, I will be siting here all year on the Board.”