Fewer than 30 high school seniors, out of 46,000 across Maryland, won't be graduating this spring because they failed to complete the state's community service requirement, according to state officials.
That likelihood, based on preliminary reports to the Maryland State Department of Education, amounts to about 20 fewer students than were penalized last year. The Class of 1997 was the first that had to fulfill the controversial graduation requirement.
A final accounting of the Class of 1998 will be presented to the Maryland State Board of Education late this month.
For now, however, "our best estimate is that less than 30 students statewide will not graduate" solely because of that requirement, said Luke Frazier, executive director of the Maryland Student Service Alliance, which oversees the program for the education department.
To meet the requirement, students must complete 75 hours of service to others while in middle or high school. Many students complete the hours through projects built into academic courses; others choose their own activities, such as reading to younger children, delivering meals to shut-ins or cleaning up streams and parks.
Last year, the service alliance reported that 49 students -- 44 of them in Baltimore -- did not graduate only because they failed to complete this requirement. Altogether, 497 students did not finish the service requirement, but 448 of them did not complete other requirements as well.
City school officials, however, dispute last year's numbers, even though they approved them in June, Frazier said.
City school officials say no students failed to graduate last year just because of the service requirement. The discrepancy seems to be due to the time of reporting, with the state compiling final statistics in June but the city continuing to issue diplomas through August to students who needed to complete credits in summer school.
This year, "the city is projecting that they are not going to have any who won't graduate because of service learning," said Frazier.
The students who have not finished the requirement are scattered among the 23 other school systems, with no more than two or three in any one county, state officials said.
Maryland is the only state to require what is called "student service learning" for high school graduation, though many private and parochial schools have had similar requirements for years.
When the state adopted the requirement, it was looked upon largely as volunteerism, which students would accomplish on their own time and initiative.
But when school officials realized two years ago that students were neglecting the obligation, they put together programs, such as courses in student-service learning and summer classes, to see that students comply.
State board members and school officials have been generally pleased with the completion rate, and with the quality of service performed. Quality is, however, a continuing concern, Frazier said, as schools try to make the service meaningful both to students and those being helped out.
Pub Date: 6/13/98