- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2004

The Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations is planning to bus students to a teachers rally in Annapolis next month.

County schools officials already have encouraged students to earn two community service credits by taking part in the Feb. 9 rally, which aims to encourage support for more education spending.

“I think if people want to read into it that it’s self-promoting, I guess they could. That’s not the way we see it,” said Pam Meador, the student service learning [SSL] specialist who decided to offer community service credits for rally attendance. “The reality is it is an opportunity for the students to get more involved in the political process in a legitimate way.”

Reginald Felton, vice president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, said he doesn’t believe there is any reason the students should not participate in the rally just because it is being co-sponsored by the school board. “I don’t see it as a conflict only because it’s a citizenship issue,” he said.

But Maryland Delegate Jean B. Cryor, Montgomery County Republican, on Thursday decried offering community-service credits to students attending the political rally.

“[W]e 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,” Mrs. Cryor said.

Montgomery County schools spokeswoman Kate Harrison yesterday said the county PTA is renting 37 buses for the standard field-trip rate of $28.85 an hour and $1 per mile. The buses will leave from county high schools and transport teachers, parents and students to the rally. Adults must accompany students.

Ms. Meador said she approved the event for community service credits based on grassroots interest in the community.

“It came to me as the SSL specialist in the county, not as a directive from [Superintendent Jerry D.] Weast or the school board, but from the students and the parents,” she said. “I got a substantial number of calls that made me realize we had to do something.”

Ms. Meador could not say how many parents and students had expressed interest because many of the inquiries came through SSL coordinators at individual schools. She said information about SSL hours was posted on the county schools Web site (www.mcps.k12.md.us) to clarify questions about how many credits would be earned through student participation in the rally.

Ms. Meador said the difference between service learning and volunteering is that students must fulfill a preparation component that varies depending on the task and a “reflection” component, usually a written statement, after their participation.

Asked if students would be offered the same community service credits for participating in rallies championing other political causes, Ms. Meador said an event has to be sponsored by a nonprofit group that will supervise the students and provide the necessary educational support.

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.

Marita Loose, a spokeswoman for Frederick County public schools, said the school system would not give students community service credits and would not close early to accommodate rally participants.”We really don’t need to because we’re close enough to Annapolis,” she said.

The rally aims to elicit support for full funding of the Thornton plan, a six-year, $1.3 billion education-reform initiative that calls for an extra $365 million for public schools next year. The plan went into effect in 2002.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has cut about $40 million in funding from the Thornton plan to help reduce a $1 billion budget shortfall left by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat. Mr. Ehrlich has proposed funding the plan with revenue generated from slot-machine licenses.

The 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.

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