- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said her staff will work with county education officials to craft a policy on service-learning credits after some school districts offered students such credits to attend a rally in February that became a protest against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

“We want to establish a uniform policy,” Mrs. Grasmick said. “We are trying to develop some level of consistency.”

At least one school district offered students the credits toward graduation, and another ended classes early so teachers and students could attend the rally.

Organizers held the Feb. 9 rally in Annapolis to call for full funding of an education initiative, but it ended with demonstrators calling for a recall of the 2002 gubernatorial election in which Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, defeated Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Critics of the rally said school districts enticed students to participate to inflate the event’s attendance.

Mr. Ehrlich asked Mrs. Grasmick to investigate the rally after The Washington Times reported in January that some students would receive the credits or were allowed to leave school early to go to Annapolis.

In Mrs. Grasmick’s first public comments about the findings, she said Charles J. Buckler, chief of the Maryland state Department of Education’s Youth Development Branch, will meet with service-learning coordinators in all 24 school districts to create a standard for awarding the credits.

“We don’t have a single system that it will be patterned after, but our office is promulgating guidelines for this,” Mrs. Grasmick said. She also said nobody would be punished for their decisions related to the rally.

Mr. Buckler said he plans to meet with the coordinators this fall and have a final report by the first of the year.

“What we are in the process of doing right now is collecting [the coordinators’] plans,” he said.

The rally was co-sponsored by the 59,000-member Maryland State Teachers Association, which says the event drew 8,000 to 12,000 people, including hundreds of students. It was intended to persuade Mr. Ehrlich to fully fund the court-mandated Thornton Education Act that attempts to close the disparity between rich and poor school districts.

The General Assembly passed the act in 2002 so the schools would receive an additional $1.3 billion by 2008.

Mr. Ehrlich provided a record increase of $319 million in fiscal 2005, which begins July 1. He is expected to fully fund the plan, despite an anticipated $800 million shortfall in fiscal 2006 left by his predecessor, former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

Mrs. Grasmick delivered a speech early in the rally, but left before the demonstrators called for the recount. Neither Mr. Ehrlich nor Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele was invited to speak.

Mr. Ehrlich could not be reached for comment about Mrs. Grasmick’s plan.

Since 1992, Maryland schools have required students to perform 60 hours of service-learning credits before graduating from high school. Districts traditionally have been given latitude in deciding what is acceptable service learning.

Pam Meador, student service-learning specialist for the Montgomery County public school system, has acknowledged making the decision to give credit for the rally.

Prince George’s County did not award the credits, but administrators closed schools two hours early so teachers and students could attend the rally. The $9,000 cost of chartering buses to transport students and teachers was covered by private donations, said Lynn McCawley, a county schools spokeswoman.

Other districts also closed schools early, used buses to transport students and offered students “no homework” passes for attending the rally.

“When we investigated it, in many cases, we found it wasn’t the school system that was paying,” Mrs. Grasmick said.

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