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Maryland Passes Community Service Requirement for High School Grads

July 30, 1992

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Public high school students in Maryland will have to log 75 hours helping out in nursing homes, soup kitchens and other settings in order to graduate - the first such statewide requirement in the nation.

The community-service requirement, adopted Wednesday by the state Board of Education, will go into effect during the 1993-94 school year, beginning with the 56,000 students entering ninth grade.

Supporters say it will teach teen-agers responsibility and activism. Opponents say volunteerism can’t be mandated.

Students will have a variety of volunteer jobs to choose from, such as working in alcohol and drug treatment centers or tutoring youngsters. The 75- hour requirement also may be waived, as long as students complete a program designed and approved by school officials.

″It’s a way to show they can make a difference. It also shows they are contributing members of society, and that youths are a resource to solve their problems,″ said Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, president of the Student Service Alliance of the State Department of Education.

Elsewhere, the District of Columbia will require students to perform 100 hours of community service beginning this fall. Atlanta, Detroit and Springfield, Mass., already require community service, Townsend said.

Starla Jewell-Kelly, executive director of the National Community Education Association in Arlington, Va., said mandatory community service is needed to help rebuild cities.

″Communities are breaking down. We don’t have that sense of each other; you can see that in the breakdown of inner cities,″ she said. ″People need to feel responsible for their community, to care about the city and the streets.″

Opponents of the program said community service should not be forced on students.

″We don’t feel it is appropriate to coerce paid labor just because they’re children,″ said Jane R. Stern, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association. ″Once you make it a requirement, you lose the meaning of volunteering. It’s just doing time.″

Ms. Stern said the teachers union may challenge the requirement in court.

Jamie Kendrick, a student representative on the Board of Education who volunteers for a drug and alcohol abuse program, said the community service requirement was a ″slap in the face.″

″If students want to be involved, they should be able to,″ she said, ″but it should not be something required.″

John C. Sprague, vice president of the school board, argued the plan is too expensive and will expose the state to lawsuits if a youngster gets hurt while fulfilling a community-service obligation.

Nancy Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, said the cost won’t be known until districts submit their plans.

The Maryland Association of Student Councils formally opposed the plan, but Jennifer Collins, a high school student and president of the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils, reluctantly backed the proposal.

″There were so many questions we were unsure about,″ she said. ″One person could see it as working at a gas station. Another person could see it as completely different.″

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