Required community service hours reduced to 12

Rohini Kieffer, Features Editor

The mandated number of community service hours for current DCPS seniors was reduced from 100 to 12. The decision was made by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and also involved the DC State Board of Education (SBOE), DCPS’s Chancellor’s Board, and the Student Advisory Committee.

Due to the pandemic, community service opportunities for seniors were restricted over the past three years, leaving them with less time to complete the previous 100 hour requirement. Senior Henry Marks, Jackson-Reed’s representative on the DCPS Chancellor’s Board, added the hours are assigned “assuming [students] have the time to go do unpaid work, which is unfair to a lot of lower income families.”

Marks began advocating to reduce the requirement by speaking with the Chancellor and other student representatives on the Board. He then raised his concerns regarding the hours with Liv Birnstad, a student member of the SBOE. The SBOE comprises four student members, an at-large member, and adult representatives from each of the eight wards. 

The OSSE engaged the SBOE by asking for their opinions on the proposed rule changes for mandated community service hours. 

“I advocated for this [issue] not only because that’s part of my duties as a student member, but also because I think that COVID made [getting] community service hours not an equal opportunity,” Birnstad said.

After analyzing the collected input, OSSE returned to the SBOE with a recommendation to reduce the community service hour requirement to 12 hours. Some board members were advocating for no community service hours while others were advocating for 25 hours. OSSE settled on the average of these two positions. The SBOE agreed, voting yes and enacting this new policy despite interruptions from COVID.

Due to the new requirement, some seniors have already finished their hours. Senior Tess Belman recalls her relief when she heard about the new policy. 

“[Figuring out ways to get hours] was occupying a lot of my time and it is a relief to know that I no longer have to worry about it so that I could get on with [other work],” Belman said. While relieved, the drastic reduction of hours came as a shock. “We only lost around a year and a half of getting community service hours and they are only requiring us to have 12 now. I’m surprised that we need less than 50,” Belman said.

Other grades will also be impacted by this change. “The way it works is that it’s staggered,” Birnstad said. 

“The class of 2023 [has] 12 [mandated community service] hours if they attend a DC public school,” Birnstad said. Charter schools may raise the minimum number from 12 if they choose to do so. The mandated number of community service hours will be 50 hours for the class of 2024, 75 hours for the class of 2025, and then will return back to 100 for all following classes. 

The DCPS Chancellor’s Board had a meeting on January 26 where they discussed expanding what qualifies as community service. One possibility is counting internships as community service. •