'I Saw It As My Voice Being Diminished': Baltimore County Board Of Education Student Member Speaks Out Over Temporary Committee Reassignment

The student member on the Baltimore County School Board was reinstated to a position on the board’s policy review committee, but not before she exchanged emails and met with new board chair Kathleen Causey, who had removed her from the committee in late December.

The initial reassignment of student board member Haleemat Adekoya, a 17-year-old senior at Milford Mill Academy, drew the attention of critics on social media, the NAACP, a state delegate and alumni of Milford Mill, all whom spoke in support of Adekoya during the public comment period at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 8.

The public testimony came at the beginning of the board meeting, the same day Causey reinstated Adekoya to the committee.

Adekoya was appointed to be the student member on the Baltimore County Board of Education in July 2018.

At the time, Adekoya was on two committees, the same as her predecessor, Josie Shaffer: curriculum and policy review. Adekoya said that, as the board member most in touch with the student body, her positions have allowed her to directly advocate for students’ wants and needs in detail during committee meetings.

“I was able to help with wording, which affected how [policies] would be interpreted, and [so] decisions would be made with more student input,” Adekoya said.

Adekoya’s policy work, however, was interrupted after the election in November that created a new board of education, which took office in early December. New board chairwoman Causey removed Adekoya from the policy review committee when committee assignments were announced in a Dec. 21 email.

“I was pretty much confused and unsure of what my role was at that point as a student member,” said Adekoya, who retained her assignment on the curriculum committee. “I saw it as my voice being diminished, and my voice as a student representative being diminished.”

Almost immediately, Adekoya said, she responded to the email and to Causey, asking for an explanation for her removal.

On Dec. 26, Adekoya got a response from Causey about the committee changes. The student said she was told that the board was concerned that she might be taking on too much by being on multiple committees — a concern Adekoya said she never raised with anyone or even felt .

In an emailed statement after a reporter’s requests for an interview, Causey said the board, first convened in early December, “approached committee assignments starting from a blank slate. With eight new members, each bringing their own knowledge, skills, and experiences, we felt it was important to evaluate all placements and make assignments based on individual members’ interests and areas they wanted to contribute.”

An online list of Board of Education committees shows that some members of the board are not currently listed on any committee.

“Our Student Member of the Board, Ms. Haleemat Adekoya is a wonderful advocate for students,” Causey wrote. “In addition to standing committee assignments, we are pleased Ms. Adekoya will serve as Board Liaison to the newly formed School Climate, Student Behavior and Discipline Citizens Advisory Council. This position is a tremendous need for the Board as we launch this important group and will require a significant time commitment.”

During a meeting the day before the board meeting, Adekoya said, she made her case with Causey and board members Julie Henn and Cheryl Pasteur. She got an email the next day saying she had been reinstated to the policy review committee.

“When concerns were raised over member’s assignments, we discussed the concerns and adjusted accordingly. Committee and other Board member assignments is an on-going process,” Causey wrote.

During public comment at the Board of Education meeting on Jan. 8, Milford Mill Academy teachers Rebecca German and Elise Dacruz, and Melissa Powell, second vice president of the Randallstown NAACP, spoke in support of Adekoya. They applauded the decision to reinstate Adekoya.

Charles Sydnor III, a state delegate who represents District 44B, spoke before the board and said he appreciated that Adekoya was placed back on the committee, but that her temporary removal had caused “a bit of an uproar” in his district.

“While I understand that it is the chair’s prerogative to appoint members to whatever committees the chair desires, to me, one of the things that is very important is encouraging young students who are interested in leadership positions to make certain they have those opportunities,” Sydnor said.

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