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Md. Becomes First State To Mandate Student Service

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After months of debate and compromise and amid some lingering doubts, Maryland last week became the first state to require community service by students as a condition of high-school graduation.

The state board of education approved the plan on a 7-to-3 vote after a "fairly lively discussion'' by board members, said State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick.

The measure, advocated by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, passed despite qualms voiced by many parents, students, and educators.

The service rule was strongly opposed, moreover, by the Maryland State Teachers Association, which believes the new requirement is unconstitutional. The teachers' union will consider supporting a legal challenge to the regulation, according to its president, Jane Stern.

But Ms. Grasmick said she believes the program is on "sound legal footing'' and will go forward with cooperation from local superintendents.

"I think the requirement speaks to the attempt to fulfill our responsibility to our children,'' Ms. Grasmick said, adding that it would help create "a society that is more caring and responsive to all our citizens.''

Local Option Added

The new rules call for students to perform either 75 hours of community service during the middle- and high-school years, or to comply with a locally designed program approved by the state superintendent.

Under either option, the service must be developmentally appropriate and the school district must set up a way to monitor the service activities, Ms. Grasmick said.

The first students affected by the mandate will be those entering the 9th grade in September 1993.

The option of a locally designed requirement was added to the original student-service proposal late last year, after all 24 school boards in the state and all but two superintendents voiced formal disapproval of the 75-hour mandate. (See Education Week, Jan. 8, 1992.)

Greater flexibility in the regulation--permitting, for example, on-campus tutoring of a younger student to count as service--could help reduce transportation and other potential problems that had earlier concerned school officials, said Ronald Peiffer, a spokesman for the state education department.

Harold J. Winstanley, the superintendent of the Allegany County schools and president of the Public Schools Superintendents Association of Maryland, said the flexible option also "makes a lot of sense'' because it would allow students to perform the service activity they preferred. He cited the example of work in a political campaign, which could be a significant service experience for a student but might not total 75 hours.

Another issue for districts has been the potential administrative costs tied to carrying out the new mandate. Estimates of the additional costs have ranged as high as $3 million for the 75-hour requirement. But Mr. Peiffer said creative program designs could keep costs down.

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