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High Court Rejects Appeal of High School Service Rule

<i> From Associated Press</i>

The Supreme Court Monday turned down the appeal of two Pennsylvania students who say requiring them to perform unpaid community service to graduate from high school amounts to slavery.

The court, without comment, rejected the students’ attempt to have the requirement invalidated as a form of involuntary servitude and a violation of their personal beliefs.

The decision caused mixed reaction in Orange County, where two school districts have adopted similar graduation requirements.

“I’m pleased they support our efforts in attempting to elevate our students’ awareness of the importance of service to others,” said Barbara Callard, principal of Laguna Beach High School.

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Last year, the Laguna Beach Unified School District became the first public school system in Orange County to establish a mandatory community service requirement. In May, the Saddleback Valley Unified School District also adopted a community service graduation requirement.

Saddleback Valley school board member Frank L. Ury, who opposes the district’s requirement, said he is disappointed that the Supreme Court did not take up the case. “I think education is having a hard enough time trying to educate kids without moving off into what I call ‘feel-good programs,’ ” Ury said.

Lynn Ann Steirer and David Stephen Moralis are seniors at Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Pa. In 1990, their school district adopted a requirement that students perform 60 hours of unpaid community service during non-school hours before they may graduate.

Steirer, Moralis and their parents challenged the plan in federal court. They said it violates the Constitution’s 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, and the First Amendment by requiring them to violate their belief that community service should be voluntary.

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A federal judge ruled against the students. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed last March, saying the constitutional ban on involuntary servitude applies only to situations involving physical coercion that are “akin to African slavery.” The school program does not require students to express any belief in the value of community service, the appeals court noted.

Times staff writer Anna Cekola contributed to this report.


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