- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

Montgomery County schools are encouraging students to earn community-service credits by participating in a teachers rally for education funding Feb. 9 in Annapolis.

And Prince George’s County schools plan to close two hours early so teachers can attend the rally.

State Delegate Jean B. Cryor, Montgomery County Republican, said the idea of offering community-service credits to students attending the rally is “disheartening.”

“We are thrilled to have them come. We encourage that,” said Mrs. Cryor. “But we can’t have them rewarded for doing this. The reward itself is doing public service. That’s the good part and that’s the end of it.”

Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson yesterday said he authorized a press release on the rally to encourage parents, teachers and others to attend, but he seemed surprised to learn that the schools would close early.

“I wasn’t encouraging them to let the kids out early,” said Mr. Johnson, a Democrat.

Rescheduled from Jan. 26 because of snow, the rally aims to elicit support for full funding of the Thornton plan, a multiyear education-reform initiative that calls for an extra $365 million for public schools next year.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has cut funding for the Thornton plan to help reduce a $1 billion deficit left by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat. Mr. Ehrlich has proposed funding the plan with revenue generated from slot-machine licenses.

The Feb. 9 rally is being organized by the Coalition for Public School Funding, a collection of teachers unions, local and state boards of education, and community activist groups.

According to the Montgomery County public schools’ Web site (www.mcps.k12.md.us), the county Board of Education is a co-sponsor of the rally. The Web site also tells students they can receive credit for two hours of community service by attending the rally.

Under a 1992 measure adopted by the State Board of Education, public school students must perform community service as a requirement for graduation. The definition of what constitutes community service is determined by individual school districts.

Montgomery County students are required to perform 60 hours — including “advocacy” work, which “involves activities which provide opportunities for students to lend their voices and talents to correct a problem or an injustice,” according to the Web site. Students must get an event organizer or other responsible adult to sign a service pamphlet to verify that they participated in an event.

In 2000, two Walter Johnson High School students fulfilled the community-service requirement by stuffing envelopes, organizing library materials and ordering reports for the Capitol Hill-based Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit lobbying organization that supports the legalization of marijuana.

A Montgomery County schools spokeswoman referred calls for comment to Pam Meador, the county’s student-service learning coordinator, who did not return a phone call.

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