A West High Student’s Plan to Increase Student Representation

Adelaide Parker


The 2020 school year has been many things, but uneventful is not one of them. From new policies to controversial school board elections and the ongoing debate about whether school should be conducted online, the Salt Lake City School Board and its constituents have faced many difficult decisions, prompting action from administrators and parents alike. But in the midst of these important decisions, one group remains underrepresented: the students themselves.

Without the ability to vote in school board elections, most students have no say in their administration or the people in charge of it. Seeing students’ lack of input on issues that directly impact their education, West High student and SLCSD Board Student non-voting representative Arundhati Oommen began a campaign to allow those age 16 and over to vote in school board elections, aiming to grant high schoolers the right to influence their own education.

“It is a true paradox that students are only allowed to vote for their school board representatives once they have aged out of the schooling system—having a say in the future education of other students, but not their own,” said Arundhati in a school board document. As a non-voting member of the school board, Arundhati has experience addressing the district’s problems, and believes many of her fellow students are qualified to do the same. She believes that lowering the school board voting age would expand student representation, allowing students to have a voice in district issues and helping board members better understand students’ priorities.

Representation is vital in all systems of voting, especially in local elections. Because of their specialized nature, local governments often have a larger impact on people’s everyday lives than those at the state or even federal level. Witnessing the ongoing debates over the COVID-19 pandemic and education and understanding the ability new policies have to directly impact students, Arundhati feels that it is vital for all students to have a voice in upcoming decisions.

“I want to give all students that opportunity to see their vote create a direct change in their communities. Students are really invested in their own education. We’ve seen students protest on the streets, run up to the Capitol. I want to make sure that those same voices are hitting the ballot box, and that their votes count,” she said to the Deseret News.

Arundhati believes that the fair representation of low-income students is even more important. Low-income students depend heavily on schools not only for education, but also for free and reduced lunch, daycare, and other essential programs. Low-income families are the people most heavily impacted by District decisions, but they are also the people least represented within District leadership. Arundhati believes that lowering the voting age for school board elections will give a voice to low-income and minority students, increasing and ensuring representation for all.

Arundhati is currently working with school board members Katherine Kennedy and Yándaray Chatwin to develop and present their proposal. Although lowering the school board voting age may take time and state intervention, Arundhati is committed to seeing this effort through.

“I’m in it for the long game because this is important to me. Even if it’s going to take years, I’ll be there and hopefully we will make this happen.”

During these past few months, many students have learned just how vital a good education is, seeing the constant efforts teachers and other members of the administration are making to ensure online education is as authentic and successful as possible. When future tragedies hit, students may join in this adaptation: working to improve their own education and the education of others.