The Harford County school system says it has come up with a painless way to meet the state's controversial student service requirement for high school graduation.
Community service would be integrated into the school curriculum in grades six through 12, and students would not have to do volunteer work to graduate.
"We were opposed to the idea of mandating volunteer activities outside the school since its inception," said William B. Seccurro, supervisor for vocational and technical education and a member of the committee that came up with the proposal.
School systems across the state have been overhauling graduation requirements since the sweeping changes made in July by the Maryland State Board of Education. The most controversial change was a requirement that students perform 75 hours of volunteer work in their communities. The state board is allowing local school districts to design their own plans for meeting the requirement, subject to state approval.
Asking students to volunteer in programs outside the school's ,, control, then asking volunteer agencies to keep count of the students' hours would be a "nightmare in terms of logistics and documentation," Mr. Seccurro said. About 17,000 students attend Harford high schools.
Under the school system's plan, community service would be a part of most classes. Students in an environmental education class, for example, might get involved in a community cleanup, Mr. Seccurro said. Students would be asked to reflect on what they had done and its effect, he said.
Or students in a seventh-grade English class could learn about community service while studying persuasive writing or debating, said Carl D. Roberts, executive director of secondary education for the Harford school system. He said students could identify and investigate social problems, such as homelessness, and write letters to public officials. "Learning advocacy is a part of service," he said.
Mr. Roberts said the state school board is expected to approve Harford's plan.
The school system's proposal, to be presented to the school board at its Dec. 14 meeting, relieved parents.
"You can't force children to be volunteers," said Rita Smith, a parent of children in the seventh, eighth and 10th grades. She said an extra-curricular volunteer program would unfairly burden students already busy with jobs, evening and weekend sports or other activities. It could also be unfair to working parents who would have to transport children to and from the volunteer activities, she said.
Other parents at the meeting Monday on graduation requirements agreed.
"I'm relieved," said Debbie Panowitz. "Parents won't have to worry about their children meeting the requirements," she said. About 100 people, mostly parents of middle school children, attended the meeting at Southampton Middle School.