By Lillian Zhou
For a candidate who values student input, look no further than the 2020 Board of Education (BOE) at-large candidate Lynne Harris. With a strong emphasis on “engaging students in every single decision” that the school system is faced with, Harris believes the knowledge students hold on the Montgomery County school system is “irreplaceable”. Harris stated in an interview, “if we aren’t engaging them on every issue, we can’t make the best decision that we can.” So, what decisions will Harris prioritize if she is elected as a Board member?
When asked about the biggest failure faced by the current BOE, Harris focused on the structure of the Board and its involvement in the policy-making process with MCPS. “There is a lack of ongoing and substantive engagement with the school community in MCPS”, Harris explained. Teachers, students, and families have to settle for meeting the Board “once every four years” when in reality, it should be “at least quarterly.” Harris concluded that instead of meeting only when big issues occurred, “the board should always be engaging on a regular basis.”
Creating a “more proactive” Board was Harris’s second goal. Instead of a “relatively passive body that has not been involved in policy initiative” or policy drafting, Harris described the Board’s main policymaking actions as simply reviewing policy or voting on whether or not to approve policy presented by MCPS to the Board. “It should be a...far more active and proactive” process, Harris said.
As for Harris’s background, she is the president of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, also known as MCCPTA. She has been a teacher in MCPS for the past five years, and has had children in the system for the last 12. She has experience as a lawyer, nurse, and public health expert, which she says gives her the knowledge to safely and successfully bring vulnerable learners back to school amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In particular, Harris has been supporting the use of public health disease prevention and control science — two areas of science that “have to govern reopening.” She stated in the BOE candidates forum which was held on October 5, “The science is there. We have to commit to it.”
As a proponent for creating hybrid models as MCPS plans to transition from remote learning, Harris prioritized working with public health departments. Over the past summer, she worked with medical science students to craft a CDC compliant proposal for small cohorts of in-person learning through skill labs. Harris stated that “our youngest learners and our students with special learning needs” need “very specific, safe plans” to stop “irreparable” learning loss from the shortcomings of virtual learning, emphasizing that “we need to be developing those plans now.”
Lynne Harris has been an “advocate in the school system” for 12 years, and promises to create a Board that engages in productive communications with not just parents, teachers, or staff, but students too. Harris will prioritize listening to the input of the student body, and support the use of public health in safely bringing MCPS students back into the school building.
This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 19 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.