Gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook has joined parents critical of the Nebo School District policy on citizenship grades.

The independent gubernatorial candidate spoke Monday at Springville High School to about 100 parents. Carolyn Hunt, spokeswoman for the group, said that when she "realized the (Nebo) school board wasn't going to work with us," she called several politicians, and Cook said he would do whatever he could to help."Citizenship is very important," Cook told the group. "And by coming here tonight, you have demonstrated what good citizens you are."

The parents are unhappy with the school district's year-old policy, which district officials say was designed to make students behave more responsibly.

Students with more than two unsatisfactory - or U - citizenship grades a year must attend makeup classes or perform community service.

Heather Wright, a senior at Spanish Fork High School, said she earned her U's by being a total of two minutes late to classes.

"I was 15 seconds late one day, 30 seconds late the next day. We are not machines. The policy needs to be a little flexible."

Wright worked her U's off by raking leaves.

"I don't need to go to school to learn to rake leaves. I go to school for an education. Education needs to be more educational and less janitorial.

"The district needs to trust those who are trustworthy. We are not all radical, misbehaving kids, but we are human. The district has decided the way to make sure no one will abuse their rights is to make sure no one has any rights."

She said no one can learn responsibility without freedoms.

Cook said the fee for the makeup class sends the wrong signals.

"It belittles the U to attach a price to it. And does it mean if I have $15 to pay I am a good citizen again?"

The policy penalizes "poor kids more than rich kids," he said.

Being a concerned citizen is the "American way" and the "Utah way," Cook said. He compared Nebo parents in the group to organizers of the tax-limitation initiatives.

"Your representatives got out of hand, so you got together to see what you could do about it." He said he will try to stop the policy before it spreads to other Utah school districts.

Parents discussed whether it is legal to keep children out of school when the state constitution promises an education. The responsibility for the $15 fee really falls on parents, they said, because most junior high and high school students cannot afford to pay.

They shared more than a dozen stories of how they believe some teachers abused the policy and gave U's unfairly. They also discussed the lack of approved community service projects available and said some teachers dismissed students from work details early or let them watch television instead of working.

Parents said a policy review board set up last spring was a farce because the four parents and two students appointed were greatly outnumbered by administrators.

Cook suggested the group concentrate on electing someone sympathetic to their cause to the school board.

"I am convinced write-in campaigns work. I wish good luck to yours and mine."

Organizers presented a 1,500-name petition to Cook in hopes he could get Nebo School District authorities to reconsider the policy. They also asked him for a donation to help pay the fee for renting the auditorium.