GLEN BURNIE – Emanuel Tsourounis doesn’t like adults to call high school students apathetic or uninformed, and this weekend, he proved them wrong.
Tsourounis is president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, composed of high school and middle school leaders from across the state. Each winter, his organization meets to discuss legislation before the General Assembly and to decide whether to lobby for the bills.
The 900 student representatives, meeting at North County High School, voted Saturday to support two bills now in the House of Delegates – one that expands the definition of child abuse and another to abolish the legislative scholarship program.
Tsourounis, a junior at Northern High School in Calvert County, said he was impressed with his peers’ arguments for and against the issues.
“I wasn’t expecting that people would be so impassioned,” he said. “If only people on the outside could see what we did today, they would know we are not the uncaring generation.”
Two students, Vivian Curry and Joe Bliffin, the group’s legislative affairs directors, reviewed General Assembly legislation earlier this year and chose bills they thought would have the most effect on students. They presented three on Saturday.
The first broadens the definition of child abuse to include mental as well as physical injury. In addition, a family member could be held liable for physically abusing another family member in front of a child.
Several students opposed the bill because they thought its definition of mental injury was too vague.
Others, however, thought more needed to be done to protect children.
“I think it’s just as harmful for an adult to hurt a child mentally as well as physically,” said Nicole St. Pierre, a student at Broadneck High School in Arnold.
Eddie Engles, a student at North County High School in Glen Burnie, agreed: “It’s a serious problem that should be tackled.”
The second bill would move the legislative scholarship funds into the Educational Excellence Award program, which would make awards based on academic achievement and leadership. Legislators have no restrictions on how they distribute the awards, and many students thought the current program was biased.
Debate centered on whether Gov. Parris N. Glendening would actually add the amount of money now distributed by lawmakers to the Excellence Awards.
“I believe the governor will appropriate the funds properly, and the program will be free of bias,” said Joseph Edmunds, a student at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and the student representative on the State Board of Education.
Other students disagreed. Several said they were concerned that there would be fewer scholarships of less value if the legislators were not allowed to distribute the awards.
Corean Robinson, a student at Walbrook High School in Baltimore who recently received a senatorial scholarship to Clark University in Atlanta, was concerned that the money would not go to students who needed it. “I’m a senior and I was depending on the scholarship” to help pay tuition, she said.
The students began debating a third bill to increase penalties on drunk and drugged driving with a minor in the car, but ran out of time before the issue came to a vote.
Bliffin said lobbying for the bills would be particularly hard this year because of the number of new legislators and the amount of legislation the group is interested in.
“We’ve had to work very hard in a very short amount of time,” he said. “There are about 200 bills we’re interested in that we weren’t able to present today.” The organization plans to lobby against a bill to abolish the 75-hour community service requirement for high school students, and for a bill that would require schools to draw up plans to deal with violence, Bliffin said. -30-