Groups rally to end military's access to student records
PHILADELPHIA -- Nancy Carroll didn't know schools were giving her family's contact information to the military until a recruiter called her 17-year-old granddaughter.
The maneuver didn't sit well with Carroll, who says she believes recruiters unfairly target minority students. So she joined activists across the country who are urging families to notify schools that they don't want their children's contact information given out.
''People of color who go into the military are put on the front line," said the 67-year-old, who is black.
A provision of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts to provide military recruiters with student phone numbers and addresses, or risk losing millions in federal education funding. Parents, or students 18 and over, can ''opt out" by submitting a written request to keep the information private.
But critics say schools do not always convey that message. In New Mexico, the American Civil Liberties Union chapter sued the Albuquerque Public School District last month, charging it does not adequately inform parents of the opt-out provision.
Some critics oppose the law on privacy grounds, but others say it gives the military an unfair chance to sway young minds -- especially in economically depressed areas.
''They're not going to all the schools. They're going to the schools where they figure the kids will have less chance to go to college," said US Representative Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington. ''It's an insidious kind of draft, quite frankly."
Carroll, who is raising three grandchildren in a working-class neighborhood of Philadelphia, agrees that the practice is unfair. ''I wouldn't want them to join," she said of her grandchildren.
But Pentagon officials say the military deserves the same access given to colleges and employers looking to recruit students.
''In the past, it was all too common for a school district to make student directory information readily available to vendors, prospective employers and post-secondary institutions while intentionally excluding the services," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
''Having access to 17- to 24-year-olds is very key to us," Major General Michael Rochelle, commander of the Army Recruiting Command, said at a news conference Friday at Fort Meade, Md. ''We would hope that every high school administrator would provide those lists to us. They're terribly important for what we're trying to do."
Asked about aggressive recruiters, he said, ''I would certainly hope that we are harassing no one. A recruiter today has to contact roughly 100 people before they can generally get one of them to sit down and listen to the Army story. . . . I'm not asking my recruiters to be any less aggressive. I would not wish for them to be overbearing or annoying."
As military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are having trouble attracting recruits to their reserves, though only the Army is falling short in its active-duty recruitments.
Andrew Rinaldi, a senior at Edison High School in Edison, N.J., filed an opt-out letter but said he was contacted by a recruiter anyway. He said the recruiter mocked his pacifist views. ''They're becoming more aggressive," he said.
None of the nation's approximately 22,600 high schools has failed to comply with the military provision of the law, and just one is ''finalizing its compliance," Krenke said.
Before No Child Left Behind became law in 2002, about 12 percent of the nation's schools refused to turn over records to military recruiters, Pentagon officials said. US Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who sponsored the recruitment provision, called the actions of those schools ''offensive."
Now, activists are holding rallies to make sure students know they can opt out.
In Montclair, N.J., more than 80 percent of Montclair High students have opted out since a student-led effort began last year.
In the urban blight of North Philadelphia, Joshua Gordy said the lure of college money led him to join the Army Reserve at age 17. He said recruiters at his high school told him he could earn $35,000 for college.
That hasn't happened. Gordy, a 20-year-old reservist, said he apparently failed to file the right paperwork in time. He hopes to enroll in community college this fall.
McDermott faults the military for enticing students with talk of patriotism, adventure and college funds, instead of giving them a realistic view of combat.
He is among those trying to change the law so that students instead ''opt-in" for recruitment.
''There's nothing dishonorable with serving in the military," said McDermott, a psychiatrist who served stateside during Vietnam. ''But it ought to be done with your eyes open."
Maryclaire Dale, Associated Press
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