News Brief: March 2024 Current Events

SMOB Election Nears

by Ziv Golan ‘26

As this year’s SMOB (Student Member of the Board) election approaches on April 17, the final two candidates, Samantha Ross and Praneel Suvarna, will be campaigning at middle and high schools throughout the county.

Ross, who is a junior at Montgomery Blair High School, has been advocating for a focus on building strong school communities and keeping AP and IB tests, as well as dual enrollment, free. She has also noted that providing funding for magnet programs is an important part of her campaign. Ross has also been a strong advocate for keeping school guidance counselors and wellness professionals well paid. In addition, Ross has extensive experience working as an intern for MCPS along with working under multiple previous SMOBs, including serving as Chief of Staff for current SMOB Sami Saeed Chief.

Suvarna, who is a junior at Clarksburg High School, has been campaigning for a variety of policies including creating a more welcoming space for transgender and non-binary students along with offering more inclusive school lunches (Halal, Kosher, Vegan, and Gluten Free options). He also wants to work towards making sure funds are being sent to schools that are in need of repairs along with working to combat institutionalized bias and hate within the county. He has experience working within the county-wide SGA along with serving as president of his school’s SGA.

The SMOB is an important position that has existed since 1978. Although many counties have a SMOB, MCPS is unique in the fact that along with Howard County, the SMOB has the same voting rights on the Board of Education as its seven elected members. The position allows the SMOB to play a crucial role in deciding the MCPS budget, school closings, and more. The position comes with a $5,000 college scholarship, Student Service Learning hours, and one honors-level social studies credit. The SMOB also has the opportunity to work with a staff of other MCPS students. This includes a Chief of Staff among other roles on the SMOB’s “cabinet” as it is called. This gives other MCPS students the ability to see how the school board operates.

Fairfax School Admissions Case Rejected by Court

by Justin Lakso ‘25

Thomas Jefferson (TJ) High School, a nationally acclaimed magnet program in Fairfax County Public Schools system in Northern Virginia, changed its admissions policy to boost the racial diversity of the school. Enrollment was based on an entrance exam and a combination of GPA, application essays, and teacher recommendations until 2020. The school board argued that these admissions favored students in wealthier areas of Fairfax, and the policy was soon updated to reserve spots for the top students from every school in the county. This boosted the percentage of Black and Latino students from under 5 percent to 20 percent, but decreased the amount of Asian American students from 73 percent to 54 percent.

The parent’s group, Coalition for TJ, filed a lawsuit against the Fairfax school board claiming that the new enrollment system was unjust and discriminatory. Initially, the district court sided with the parents, agreeing that TJ’s enrollment cannot withhold spots for students to promote racial diversity; however, this was overturned in the court of appeals. The Coalition for TJ appealed the case to the Supreme Court. The Court denied their writ of certiorari almost immediately, refusing to hear the case. The majority maintained that the policy is race neutral, despite the demographic changes that resulted from it. Justice Samuel Alito dissented with the ruling, arguing “what the Fourth Circuit majority held is that intentional racial discrimination is constitutional so long as it is not too severe. This reasoning is indefensible, and it cries out for correction.” This claim was similar to the dissents in the lower courts. As Judge Claude Hilton of the district court wrote, “Asian American applicants are disproportionately deprived of a level playing field.”