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NCLB Outrages

Military Has High School Student Lists

Ohanian comment: Isn't it interesting that public schools must hand names and addresses over to the military but private schools are exempt? The rich and powerful know how to protect their children. And notice waffling of Standardisto democrat Chris Dodd.

Yuvanda Brown wondered about all the military brochures her son Darnell, a junior at Central High School in Bridgeport, began receiving this year along with college materials.

She had assumed Darnell had been put on the mailing list because he had taken the PSATs and started a college search. Brown had no idea the guidance office at Central like every other public high school in the nation has been giving out the names, addresses and phone numbers of students to recruiters from all branches of the military for four years.

Buried deep in the voluminous 2001 No Child Left Behind law is a provision that requires schools to comply with requests, both from military recruiters and higher education institutions, for student directory information, unless a parent "opts out."

Private schools are exempt.

Brown can't remember getting any form to sign giving her a chance to opt out. If she had, she would have blocked recruiters' access to her 17-year-old. Now that she knows, she plans to opt out of future lists.

"I'm not happy about it. I've already spoken to my son. I've told him, Don't sign anything if anyone asks you until I know what's going on,' " she said.

Some lawmakers are concerned that not all parents know about the disclosure requirement,
or their right to opt out. Those concerns prompted U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., to introduce the Student Privacy Protection Act. The legislation would amend NCLB to give recruiters access to students' information only if their parents approve it first.

The idea drew mixed reaction from members of the Connecticut delegation.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, said she supports the military's efforts to recruit young people especially during this time when recruitment levels are low. But she said she also has concerns about infringing on students' privacy by releasing their records without consent.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., in a written statement, said he stands by the original No Child Left Behind bill language that allows parents to opt out of releasing students' information but does not require their permission.

"We have not seen new legislation from Rep. Honda on this, but we certainly stand ready to examine it fully and thoroughly," said Marvin Fast, a Dodd spokesman.

Jordan Press, a spokesman for Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, said the congressman has no problem with the law as it is written.

"Schools just have to be more diligent about making sure parents know they can opt out," he said. "I understand some schools may not be doing that. Sounds to me like an enforcement problem."

Press added that Shays supports both a parent's right to opt out and the military's right to approach willing students.

At Bassick High School, counselor Charles Brennan doesn't recall any student ever asking to be taken off the list.

Once or twice a year, recruiters from various branches of the military will visit the school for a printout of the class roster.

Brennan is not sure what the recruiters do with the list. He assumes it is used to send out blanket mailings. He is fairly certain it is not used to pressure students. He has not heard students complain they felt pressured by the military contact.

"Believe me, if I thought recruiters were high-pressuring our kids or twisting arms, I would close my door. I don't care what the law is," Brennan said.

Rather, he said he sees the access as an opportunity for students and recruiters alike.

"It gives students one more option to look at and recruiters a way to contact students," he said.

In the past recruiters' access to Bassick was confined to dropping off brochures, staffing tables at school events or meeting with students who have expressed an interest in serving.

No college representative, Brennan said, has come in to request a class roster.

Colleges, he said, have other ways to get information about students, including information students themselves make available on SATs and on information cards they fill out at college fairs.

In Milford, district spokeswoman Kathy Bonetti said the district is diligent about making sure parents know they can opt out of disclosing their children's information.

The district specifically asks parents to grant or deny access to military recruiters in a mailing sent out in September. It also includes a permission slip in the student handbook.

"Every September there is a huge emphasis on getting these sign-off sheets back," Bonetti said. She did not know how many parents have opted out. The district also requires the military to request the rosters each year in writing.

At Warde High School in Fairfield, counselor Bob Esposito said a student handbook mailed out each summer has a tear-out form that gives parents the ability to keep their children's directory information off the roster provided to the military. He guesses 10 percent or less opt out. "It's not a huge number. It could be they don't pay attention or don't understand exactly what is involved," Esposito said. Cards not returned are viewed as acceptance of inclusion in the directory. Parents, he said, have an annual chance to opt out of future directories. Every branch of the service, Esposito said, calls and collects a copy of the directory at Warde.

Each of his own kids has gotten calls at home from military recruiters, even one already in college.

"You know, most of the recruiters we deal with are really excellent and do a fair job and when the kid says no,' it's no. Others will continue to call," Esposito said.

Thomas Colucci, head counselor at Stratford High School, isn't sure how many parents opt students off the list but has not heard any fallout.

"I think partly because we regulate the military pretty tightly. We tell them, If you harass our kids, we won't let you in the building,' " he said.

Recruiters can pick up the list but need appointments to come in and speak with Stratford students.

Some students want to hear what the military has to offer. Jennifer Payton, 17, a student at Bunnell High School in Stratford, wasn't aware her directory information was being shared with the military, but she said it doesn't bother her.

"It doesn't matter because I'm not going," the college-bound senior said flatly.

At Stratford High, between five and 10 kids enlist each year. At Warde it's about a half dozen annually.

At Bassick last year, 11 out of 197 graduates went into the service, the highest number in a long time, Brennan said.

Sgt. Richard Lang, the new station commander at the Bridgeport Army Recruiting Station, said having access to high school students' names has helped in his responsibility to contact high school juniors and seniors. It has not, however, resulted in a dramatic increase in enlistment.

"From my standpoint it's a good program. It does help us a little bit," he said.

A recruiter in Vermont before coming to Bridgeport, Lang said the schools he has dealt with have been good about giving parents the opportunity to opt out.

"I make a point to ask parents, Hey, did you receive something from school? I would rather have parents who want their son or daughter to explore all options, who see the military as a good option despite what's going on in the world," he said.

Linda Conner Lambeck, who covers regional education issues, can be reached at 330-6218.

— Linda Conner Lambeck
Connecticut Post


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