Students may be required to perform community service

December 18, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

Maryland is poised to become the first state in the nation to require community service as a condition for graduating from high school, with a vote today by the state Board of Education.

If finally approved, the plan and other changes to state graduation requirements would take effect in the 1993-94 school year.

The 10-member board voted unanimously to require students to complete either 75 hours of community service or a community-service program designed by their local school system and approved by the state school superintendent.

Today's vote came a day after the board voted to require student to take more science, along with algebra and geometry, to graduate from high school, under new requirements tentatively approved by the state Board of Education.

The board's actions still require public comment and could come up for a final vote at the board's March meeting.

Community service was among the most controversial parts of the changinggraduation requirements and drew scores of opponents to a marathon public hearing in October.

Originally, the board had proposed 75 hours of service for all students.

Jonathan Sims, the student member of the state board, said the board's action was a good compromise since students and local superintendents flatly opposed mandatory student service.

Sims said the compromise will let local school systems devise programs "that will best fit their systems."

Among the tentative changes approved by the board effective for ninth graders in the 1993-94 school year:

* Three science credits, up from the two currently required. The laboratory courses would come from the categories of earth, life and/or physical sciences.

* Specific requirements for the existing three credits in social studies. Students would have to study local, state and national government, U.S. history, and world history. Only U.S. history is specified now.

* A requirement that the three currently mandated math credits include two courses involving algebraic and geometric concepts.

* A mandatory 21 credits to graduate, up from the current 20.

But the board backed away from even more stringent math requirements proposed by some members.

It also also rejected a proposal to require geography and economics in high school, and rebuffed a suggestion that it scrap the citizenship test currently required by the state.

The board is expected to finish voting on the proposals today. After time for public comment, the board would then take a final vote, by next March at the earliest.

Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent, said the board sent a clear message to school systems about the importance of stronger math and science education.

"I think the philosophical direction obviously has to do with school improvement," she said. "There's a clear message of expectations of students."

She said that new requirements may themselves be changed in a few years, noting that a task force could end up overhauling what is expected from all graduates, starting with the graduating class of 2000.

Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the board, said members were reluctant to mandate too many specific social studies courses.

He cited the cost to school systems and concerns that students would not have time to take electives.

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