Huddled around cafeteria tables at Chesapeake High School, students wanted to know why adults were letting them down.
Sixteen-year-oldPhillip Diener scurried from table to table during lunch, gathering signatures to send a strong message to state legislators, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, school board members and whoever else will listen that students want to put a stop to cuts in school programs.
"Somebody has got to listen to us," Phillip said, as he flagged down students to sign the petition. "I figure, we're the ones in the schools. We're the ones who should have a say. We don't like the idea of sports being cut, we don't want 40 students in a class, the art department is falling apart and teachers are having to buy their own supplies.
"We're tired of people pushing us around like cattle, branded with different school names. We are not mindless sheep. We want asay."
In less than a full school day, he had signatures from 800 students. Phillip said he plans to take the petition to state legislators and hopes to get an audience with them and school board members,who later may be forced to implement the cuts.
All over the county, students are uniting to oppose proposed budget cuts that may include teacher layoffs as well as the elimination of all extracurricular school activities -- including winter and spring sports -- and pay for coaches and advisers.
Special education programs and student transportation also are in jeopardy. Students from Arundel, South River and Annapolis high schools brought their protest to the State House steps Thursday. Students at Annapolis staged a sit-in to send their message to school and state leaders. At North County, the topic dominates class discussions.
Peter Cimbolic, a freshman at Annapolis, said he and other students are angry about losing extracurricular activities.
"The (elimination of) the athletic program would, in turn, shut down the spirit of the school," Peter said. "I think the cuts areharsh and are really not well thought out. I think they should step back and see what this would do to education in the state of Maryland."
Peter said Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Annapolis, visited Annapolis this week to discuss the cuts.
"He told us that the cuts weren't directly coming from education," the 14-year-old said. "But all the members of the Senate really know that 50 percent of the county budget goes directly to education. It is almost understood that the cutswould come from education. It's really a lot of beating around the bush."
Politically savvy students are refusing to remain silent on the issue. And protests and rallies are sprouting up throughout the county.
Friday afternoon, school system administrators hurried to Southern High in Harwood after learning of yet another student walkout.
Students like Phillip at Chesapeake want lawmakers and parents to face up to the reality that tax increases are inevitable.
"I think it all means that we will have to raise taxes," Phillip said. "Twocents on the gas tax, maybe? People assume I'm saying this (and) excluding myself. I buy gas. I would have to pay it.
"We've got to dosomething. They are cutting out crucial programs that are keeping people like me from getting into trouble with the law. I'm involved in wrestling six days a week."
Dean Coccia, a 17-year-old senior at Chesapeake, said he fears losing an opportunity to get a lacrosse scholarship for college.
"I've been playing for four years," Dean said. "I'm trying to get money for college. If they do away with it for this year, what am I going to do?"
Middle school students say the problems would affect them as well.
Students at MacArthur Middle School already have asked student council adviser and guidance counselor Christine Davenport if she would continue to work with them during lunch break if after-school activity buses are cut.
"They don't want their activities to end," said Davenport, who could lose her stipend for working with the club. "We're talking about eliminating dances, leadership workshops, volleyball and chorus."
Robert Buckingham,a business teacher and job coordinator at Glen Burnie High, said he is concerned about layoffs. He has worked for the county for 25 years.
"It's disgraceful that they are doing this," Buckingham said. "It seems they always want to hit at teachers. It always falls on teachers and students. It is definitely affecting morale. There's a feeling of anxiety.
"Education will become a major (political) platform.When we cast our votes, we have to cast them for education."