- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2000

Montgomery County, Md., schools will allow participation in Sunday's "Million Mom March" and the "Second Amendment Sisters" counterdemonstration to count toward the volunteerism graduation requirement of any student who asks for the credit.

School officials for Maryland and Montgomery County allowed local school officials to decide whether student participation in the demonstrations would count toward the volunteerism requirement.

"Advocating for various sides of issues is part of the learning process. It's part of the democratic process," said county schools spokesman Kate Harrison.

But county school officials have distributed handbills endorsing only the "Million Mom March," which aims to persuade Congress to enact more stringent gun-control laws.

The handbills do not mention the "Second Amendment Sisters" rally, which seeks to promote gun rights for U.S. citizens and call for stricter enforcement of gun laws already on the books.

School officials defended the action by saying that the Second Amendment organizers did not approach the county for credit approval, as did the Million Moms organizers.

"We don't recruit kids. We just provide information on an opportunity [to receive credit]," said Kristine Leary, a service learning specialist who made the decision to allow the credit throughout Montgomery County.

The school system's distribution of handbills connected to a political issues has upset some parents.

"Schools should not be involved in politics," said Terry McCoy of Kensington, whose sixth-grade son attends Tilden Middle School. "Bringing politics in the schools in very divisive."

Mr. McCoy said he became upset two months ago when his son, Kevin, first brought home "Million Mom March" information attached to the local PTA update. He said he didn't press the point with school officials because the PTA is a private group.

When his fifth-grade daughter, Jennifer, brought home a bright pink handbill from Garrett Park Elementary, authorized by Montgomery County schools, his outrage increased, he said.

"Now it's gone from the PTA to being officially sanctioned by the school system," Mr. McCoy said.

School officials said the march has been approved the national PTA and its local chapters, which also endorsed Gov. Parris N. Glendening's successful legislative push for integrated gun locks this year.

Joan Carol, principal of North Bethesda Middle School, said she "had no idea" some parents might find the "Million Mom March" objectionable. "We haven't heard that from a single person," she said.

Ms. Carol said the PTA handbill supporting the "Million Mom March" was sent home with her students only after county school officials told principals that the march would fulfill the volunteerism requirement.

"This is an issue about what is in the best interest of children," said Ms. Harrison, the county schools spokesman. "I don't think we're considering this in a political way."

"If students wanted to get credit for going to that demonstration, they would get it," she added.

The volunteerism requirement, called for "student service learning," is the only one of its kind in the nation and was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in July 1992.

It requires students to perform 75 hours of community service through programs designed by each of the state's 24 public school systems.

"We left that up to the school system to see what counts and what doesn't," said Ron Peiffer, assistant state superintendent of schools. "If you spend some time serving the community, you better understand your role as a citizen. That's the ultimate goal."

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