The state Board of Education must sift through an avalanche of public comments on its proposed overhaul of the state's high school graduation requirements.
Nearly 150 people signed up to testify at a marathon two-day hearing that went late into last night and continued today, and almost 700 more submitted written comments.
And they were divided on what the board should do about the current proposal, which would apply to all students entering the ninth grade as of the 1993-94 school year.
Some praised parts of the complex plan, which would increase to 21 credits the number of credits required to get a high school diploma, up from 20.
Others asked the board to fine-tune the proposal, which would, among other things, require students to take more mathematics and social studies in order to graduate.
Most controversial was a mandate that every student complete 75 hours of community service between middle school and graduation.
If adopted by the board, it would make Maryland the first state to require community service for a student to graduate.
The community service requirement has drawn support from a spectrum of corporate executives and charitable groups, said an education department staff member.
But it is opposed by many local school boards and administrators, teachers groups and others who cite logistical problems, and who argue that community service should be voluntary, not mandatory.
Testimony was deeply divided on that issue yesterday, with local school administrators lining up to denounce the requirement, even as individual students and teachers sup
"In a time of declining resources, let's put our money where we're going to get the best return," said Noel T. Farmer Jr., who was waiting to testify on behalf of the Public School Superintendents Association.
Farmer said the requirement puts an extra burden on hard-pressed local school systems, at a time when the state already is pressing them to boost academic performance.
William R. Ecker, Caroline County superintendent, warned of practical problems, including verification and need for extra staff.
"The job that teachers have is just overwhelming," he said. "I'm afraid some kids would make a farce out of it."
And R. Wayne Carmean, who represented the Cecil County Board of Education, called the proposal "foolhardy, inequitable and costly."
Also in opposition was the Maryland Association of Student Councils, which challenged other parts of the proposal as well.
Jamie Kendrick, testifying for the student group, warned that there would be too few opportunities for service in rural areas, and called the requirement "logistically impossible" in some parts of the state.
His group also questioned how the students' work would be monitored, warned of the program's expense and potential liability issues.
The proposal also drew opposition from Howard and Allegany County administrators, and from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, among others.
One notable exception was Joseph L. Shilling, Queen Anne's County superintendent, who oversaw the proposal as state school superintendent, before retiring earlier this year.
Shilling noted that the board already requires English, mathematics and science.
"If we believe that values of caring, responsibility to others and awareness of social issues are of equal importance, it would be almost antithetical not to require student service," said Shilling.
The proposal also drew ringing endorsements from individual parents, teachers and students.
"To be able to tap into the greatest resource we have, our young people, is no small thing," said Kathy Kretman, a parent from Montgomery County.
Jennifer Wiswall, a student representing South River High School in Anne Arundel County, noted that many students already participate in volunteer activities, and benefit from them.
Dan Pascowitz, a student from Montgomery County, said students could satisfy the requirement over a long period of time, and that there is an urgent need for student workers.
"The only way that we can provide enough service to people who need it is get individuals involved, and the schools are the perfect place to start," he said.
And for Tony Deliberti, a teacher from Montgomery County, the issue is a simple one.
"Do we want committed citizens?" he asked the state board. "Do we want to build character and self-esteem, and a sense of self-worth?"
Besides the community service mandate, the proposed graduation requirements would:
* Increase to four credits the number of mathematics credits required to graduate, up from the current three. Two of those credits would have to include algebra and geometry.
* Increase the number of social studies credits to four, from the current three credits, requiring each student to take U.S. history, world history, government, and some geography and economics.
* Set stricter limits on the science and English courses students would have to take to meet their credit requirements, and mandate technology education.
* Require two years of a foreign language or advanced technology for college-bound students, and a four-credit career and technology course for students opting to go to work directly after graduating.
The state board is expected to consider action on the proposal at its Nov. 20 meeting.