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Don't back off now

January 30, 1997

Don't back off now

Five years after Maryland lawmakers made 75 hours of community service a requirement for graduation, three of every 10 Washington County high school senior haven't completed them. Twenty-four haven't even started, and the pressure is building for some measure that would let them off the hook. Forget that, unless the school system wants to give up any role in instructing students in how to become good citizens.

Our position stems from these facts: The requirement is ridiculously easy to complete. For teenagers who probably spend more than 75 hours a month watching television, giving 75 hours to charity over four years is no big burden, unless you count making contact with the less fortunate a hardship.

For those who feel that way, there are other projects that don't involve human contact like picking up trash along a stretch of roadway or stuffing envelopes for a local charity. Frankly, some of the toughest critics of this law have told us that it teaches children little about public service because some projects that have been approved for credit - rolling out wrestling mats before gym class in one local school, for example - fall into the category of busywork.

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One of the best projects we've heard about involved taking local high school students to a nursing home to read to residents and talk to them. We guarantee those students will never think of the elderly and the issues that face the aged in the same way. Some may ever be inspired to do something about the problems of aging, as medical researchers, social workers or adult volunteers.

This is what the law what intended to do - to give students the opportunity to see the community's needs and realize that without their involvement, now and later, things won't improve.

As the deadline approaches, we're sure that we'll see some misguided parents heading to court to overturn this requirement or lobbying lawmakers to exempt the next graduating class. We urge anyone who's asked to interfere to do what the school board has already done and back this law. To do otherwise is to teach students that the law is only for those without money or clout.

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