Chorus Of County Nays Greets Volunteerism Plan

October 20, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

The county school board and groups representing students, teachers and parents oppose a proposal for mandatory community service as part of more stringent statewide high school graduation requirements.

In a last-minute response to the state Board of Education's proposal, the Harford County Board of Education Monday night voted to oppose making students perform 75 hours of unpaid community service to receivediplomas.

The service requirement -- which would be spread out over four years of high school -- is also opposed by the state teachers union andthe association representing local school boards.

The Harford board's statement said voluntary service programs in county schools already encourage a sense of community "in a more palatable manner."

"We believe mandatory service may indeed take away and erode what Harford County schools over the years have built," said Carl Roberts, thecounty's secondary education director.

Ty Long Nguyen, speaking for the Harford County Regional Association of Student Councils, said,"The route the school board may want to take to get more volunteerism is to encourage the students rather than giving them an ultimatum."

Christine Hagget, president of the Harford County Education Association, which represents the school system's 1,500 teachers, says theHCEA supports community service, "but we're against forced volunteerism."

The PTA statement on the state plan -- which passed Thursdaynight -- also warned that requiring community service would undermine genuine student concern.

It would leave schools open to lawsuitsif a student is injured on the job or in transit, board member PercyWilliams said.

Williams also predicted that education would become "less equal" as some students take advantage of their parents' professional connections to line up volunteer work in hospitals and government offices.

"There will be the group that will have golden opportunities to do some things, while some other students in the same environment will have to take what's left," he said.

The county school board also had reservations about loss of flexibility under the state plan to boost the required number of credits to graduate from 20 to 21 over four years, beginning with ninth-grade students in 1993-1994.

The school board and student councils oppose increasing math credits to four, but support adding a third science credit.

Both groups also question a proposal requiring technology classes, which arebroadly defined to include computer science and vocational education. The school board is worried about losing home economics. Student councils, meanwhile, are asking whether shop and woodworking classes would be eliminated.

In the biggest area of disagreement, the countyschool board supports -- and the student councils oppose -- the state proposal allowing students to earn credits through examinations instead of taking certain classes.

School board member Anne D. Sterling said "testing out" would increase curriculum flexibility and allowstudents to increase their number of electives.

But the student councils criticized the plan as poor educational policy that would only substitute exam-cramming for class "participation, oral skills and teamwork."

The board backed away from Superintendent Ray R. Keech's conditional endorsement of the state's certificate of merit program, an honors designation for students who demonstrate higher-level thinking skills in advanced classes.

The student councils disagreed with Keech on his desire to keep the merit grade-point-average standard at 2.6, instead of raising it to 3.0 as the state proposes.

Roberts argued that the lower average assures greater student participation.

The student councils supported the state plan to raise the GPAto challenge participating students.

But the school board was sympathetic with its student member, Jenna Skopp, who said current meritinstruction standards are so watered down that the program should beabolished.

The board decided to reconsider the issue before sending its comments to the state.

PTA president Victoria Kornick complained that her group was not given a chance to make its views known.

"This should have been brought up months ago and it wasn't," Kornick said. "The state doesn't want any public comment."

But Williamssaid the board and independent groups all faced the same tight deadlines to respond to the state, which tentatively adopted the proposal in July.

The board was operating under a Tuesday deadline to submit written comments in advance of a public hearing Oct. 29 at the State Board of Education, 200 W. Baltimore St., Baltimore.

Parents maybe allowed to address the proposal during the state board meeting.

Parents who want to speak during the meeting should call 333-2202.

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