- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 9, 2006

Montgomery County public school officials are awarding community-service credits to students who participate today in a pro-immigration rally on the Mall, angering some residents, who say the school system is supporting illegal activity.

“Under no circumstances should [student service-learning] hours be used to promote activities such as going to a protest for illegal aliens,” said Brad Botwin, president of the Richard Montgomery High School Athletic Booster Club in Rockville. “To volunteer to teach people English or help with food services [is OK] but to aid and abet illegal aliens and to have students go downtown and get credit for this is mind-boggling.”

Immigrant advocacy group CASA of Maryland is helping organize rallies in more than 65 cities to persuade Congress to pass legislation that will help provide citizenship to illegal aliens in the United States, instead of requiring them to be deported.

The group last week asked school officials to provide buses and grant credit to students who participated in the rally. Officials said they denied the request for buses because expenditure tax laws forbid it.

The Maryland State Board of Education in 1992 began requiring students to earn 60 community-service hours to graduate from high school. Counties are allowed to decide what constitutes appropriate service. Montgomery County grants credit for service in three areas, including in advocacy.

Brian Edwards, a spokes-man for the county public schools, said students may earn one credit an hour doing a preapproved activity under the supervision of a nonprofit group, pending completion of a written assignment. The activity must take place off-campus and outside school hours. Students are on spring break, so they would not be participating in the rally during school hours, he said. The school system is not taking a side in the debate, Mr. Edwards added.

The school system approves which nonprofit organizations are eligible to provide community-service options, but does not decide which activities may be offered or “encourage one type of activity over another,” Mr. Edwards said.

Students have participated in other protests, including the March for Life and gun rights rallies, and volunteered on Republican and Democratic political campaigns, he said.

“There is legitimate debate going on in the U.S. Congress on this issue,” Mr. Edwards said. “The state sets the guidelines, and advocacy is allowed under the state guidelines.”

Congress has been working on a compromise immigration legislation and will resume negotiations when lawmakers return from a two-week recess.

Mr. Edwards also said the students, and everyone else living in the United States, have the right to freedom of assembly.

“It is a legal protest. As long as it’s a legal event, then it can be approved,” he said.

Students who have walked out of schools this month in protest are not eligible for community-service credits, he said. Sixty percent of Montgomery County students are minorities.

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