Disclosing students' names to military angers some parents
Judy King and Susan Bottcher are both moms who stand by their children.
So when her 17-year-old daughter, Robin Jones, decided to join the Army
Reserves, King sat at her side during meetings with recruiters, armed
with a list of questions each time. And once Robin enlisted, the mom
researched the Army online, networked with other military moms, even
tracked down another girl who will begin basic training with her
daughter later this month.
"If she could go for me, she would," said Robin, a recent graduate of
The Rock private school. But Robin, herself, wasn't planning to enlist
until a recruiter called her.
For Susan Bottcher, standing by her son, also 17, meant speaking up when
she found out military recruiters could get his name, phone number,
address and birth date from Gainesville High School. She knew her son
wasn't interested in joining, she said, but the idea of the military
having that information alarmed her.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 obliges all schools
receiving federal money to give the military their 11th- and
12th-graders' contact information unless parents - or the students
themselves - opt out. Any school that doesn't comply risks losing the
Bottcher chose to opt out by writing to Alachua County Public Schools.
But she didn't stop there.
"When I told people (military recruiters) have access to their contact
information and 'Don't be surprised if a recruiter shows up on your
doorstep,' they acted like I was crazy. They didn't know what I was
talking about," Bottcher said.
So she printed out a copy of No Child Left Behind's section 9528 to
prove it, then she and other parents attended School Board meetings to
demand that parents be better notified.
The School Board already had information about opting out in its Student
Code of Conduct, but members voted last week to add boxed, bold-faced
notices to the table of contents and appendix directing parents to that
Before approving it, Chairwoman Tina Pinkoson said, "I just do not ever,
ever want to send the message to our veterans and to our people serving
in the military that we do not support them. We're simply making parents
aware of that option."
The school district also will send forms home to parents early in the
school year to assist them in opting out.
What parents don't realize is that schools have released the information
for years, said Capt. Jenny Cline, who oversees five local Army
recruiting stations with a total of 25 recruiters.
The No Child Left Behind regulation "is not carte blanche for the
military to come in and invade schools. It helps establish parameters
and also gives parents, really for the first time, the opportunity to
opt out of recruitment," she said.
She added the image of harassingly aggressive recruiters isn't accurate
in the offices she oversees, which approach the job more like career
Though it's true they're asked to meet a "mission goal" each month -
typically 30 to 50 recruits among the five stations - "Our recruiters
are focusing on young people to provide opportunities, not to meet a
quota, not to make a number," she said.
Bottcher said she heard another story from fellow parents.
"I started learning through the grapevine about some incidents a little
closer to home, about recruiters getting a little harassing," she said.
"They're stepping up their sales tactics, showing up to soccer
practices, the mall. You can't get away from them. And they're making
all sorts of promises that turn out to be hollow."
After speaking at a privacy rights workshop for parents recently, Scott
Camil, a Vietnam veteran and member of the GI Rights Hot Line, shared a
"The country is at war, the military is extended and recruitment is
down. So the military starts fudging, doing anything they can to get
people to sign up," he said. "They're professionals, and their job is to
get these kids into the military."
Camil said he's not anti-military, but, "There's all kinds of ins and
outs that people don't know because they're just kids. They might get
promised they have a certain job, but if the recruiter doesn't put it in
writing, it doesn't count."
Camil and Bottcher each declined to name anyone specifically harassed by
Cline said such complaints have not reached her desk, and - if such
practices do happen - she said she wants to know about it.
"This is a trust-based business. ... The moment we violate the public's
trust, we take two, three steps backward," she said, adding each of her
recruiters is trained in ethics and legal issues before dealing with
As for opting-out, she said, it's a federal law, so she has no problem
"If parents feel strongly enough that they don't wish for their child to
hear of military options, then we respect that," she said.
But as word of the No Child Left Behind mandate spreads across the
nation, anti-recruitment groups are spreading, too.
Leavemychildalone.org and militaryfreezone.org are two of the national
Web sites decrying the release of high schoolers' personal information.
Organizers call it a violation of family privacy rights, a strong-arming
to schools and a warm-up to the draft.
However, according to professor Diane Mazur, a military law specialist
at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law, "It isn't entirely
a privacy issue. People want to be more private depending on who it is
that might contact their children."
For example, the same information is released to colleges and yearbook
and class ring companies, but that isn't labeled a privacy violation,
Rather than violating any rights, the "biggest issue" with the mandate
is that it requires an extra effort from parents and schools, she said.
"If there's any breakdown in the system, it works to the military's
advantage," she said, adding that the local School Board members' new
effort to notify parents "is probably the most effective thing they can
No Child Left Behind also requires that military recruiters have the
same access to students in school as college recruiters, but schools
still have a right to regulate their access.
In Alachua County schools, the regulations differ on a school-by-school
basis. Principals set the guidelines, which generally allow recruiters
to set up booths in common areas. They're also allowed in classrooms
occasionally to speak of career or financial aid options, said Bill
Goodman, the district's supervisor for guidance and student services.
But he added, "Any child that does not want to be there certainly would
have an alternative. We're not forcing any students to sit in a
presentation that's against their belief systems."
For Robin Jones, hearing from a recruiter changed her life. A top
student in her class, she planned to attend college, and she wasn't
willing to give it up for the military. Then Sgt. Pierre Brudnicki told
her about the Army Reserves, in which she can serve the required one
weekend a month and two weeks a year and still attend college.
"I probably would not have pursued it if he hadn't called me," Robin
said. She begins nine weeks of basic training next week, then she'll
take courses specific to her assignment as a signals intelligence
analyst. But she'll also be able to start school with a double major in
criminology and psychology and a minor in Spanish and Latin American
studies. One weekend a month and two weeks a year, she'll be on duty,
and much of her schooling will be paid by the military.
Cline said Robin is a good example of a teen making the military work
for her as much as she will work for it. Often the hardest part of
reaching people like Robin is getting a foot in the door, Cline said.
Once they're willing to listen, she finds their concerns are primarily
misconceptions about the military and its benefits.
"That's what's sad about opting out," she said, suggesting parents
instead come with their children when they talk to recruiters to find
out more and help the child make an informed decision. The biggest fears
she hears among moms and dads are about the war in Iraq, and she agrees,
"No amount of money or benefits can account for the patriotism and
sacrifice" soldiers make while serving there.
But she tells parents, "When soldiers come home, they will still have a
very good career with prospects for advancement, veteran's benefits,
free medical care, free child care. Where else can you get that?"
Cline doesn't say opting out places recruiters in a tight spot, and she
contends at least one-tenth of enlistees show up at the recruitment
offices before even being contacted. But as fighting in Iraq continues,
the flow has slowed down, she said, and if recruiters fail, the military
"This is an all-recruited Army, not an all-volunteer Army," she said.
"If no one meets with recruiters and no one agrees to be recruited,
there won't be an Army."
Tiffany Pakkala can be reached at (352) 338-3111 or email@example.com
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