When students who are now in the seventh grade enter high school in two years, they may be required to perform community service as part of a proposed revision of the state's graduation standards.
The mandate, given preliminary approval by the State Board of Education yesterday, would make Maryland the first state in the nation to require community service as a condition of graduation.
If approved, the standards would apply to incoming ninth-graders in 1993-94. The standards are to be published Feb. 7 in the Maryland Register and are open for public comment. The board could take a final vote in March.
The service requirement is only one element in a sweeping revision of state graduation standards. More than a year in the making, the changes are intended to make high school study more rigorous.
The standards would require 21 credits instead of 20, including more science, tougher math courses and more specific social studies classes.
They also would require one credit in technology education for all students, make health education a part of physical education, and require students to take the Maryland citizenship test for the first time in the seventh grade.
Student service was the most controversial change.
"Education is not only teaching didactic information, but preparing students for being lifelong learners," said Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools.
The original plan, which called for 75 hours of mandatory service, had been blasted as restrictive and unworkable by local superintendents and student groups.
Reacting to the criticism, the board revamped its plan to give school systems the option of devising their own programs in lieu of the 75 hours, subject to approval by the state superintendent.
Education department staffers said activities could be anything from volunteering with a charity to tutoring other students.
"I would view this amended version as more palatable," said Robert Y. Dubel, Baltimore County school superintendent. He noted that the county has hundreds of voluntary community service activities involving students. But it is far from clear what kind of program will suffice, he said.
Noel T. Farmer Jr., school superintendent in Frederick County, said school systems would be likely to tie their student service programs to the curriculum, making them part of a student's instruction.
"If it's going to be required, the option of letting local systems develop their plans is a much better approach," he said.
Baltimore had opposed the original proposal because of concerns about liability, said Norman J. Walsh, associate superintendent.
Walsh said that students in the city might satisfy the requirement by volunteering with the Humane Society, taking meals to senior citizens on weekends, doing charitable work with church groups or tutoring fellow students.