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Milwaukee schools consider limiting military recruiters

By Alan J. Borsuk

A campaign to give military recruiters a decidedly cooler welcome in Milwaukee high schools and to make parents more aware of their right to keep recruiters at a distance from their children has hit the front burner of the Milwaukee School Board and may bring results as soon as tonight.

Under federal law, high schools must provide names, addresses and phone numbers of students for use by military recruiters, but parents and students 18 or older may request to be omitted from the list.

The effort, led by board member Peter Blewett and backed by some students and parents, puts Milwaukee among a growing number of cities where opponents of the war in Iraq have targeted provisions of federal law that were little-noted until recently.

The No Child Left Behind law requires schools that receive federal education money - almost every public high school in Wisconsin and many private ones - to provide names, addresses and phone numbers of students to military recruiters unless a specific "opt-out" form is submitted by a parent or a student who is at least 18.

The law gives military recruiters the same access to students that college recruiters and employers are given.

As a result, recruiters visit high schools frequently, often setting up tables in cafeterias or making presentations to groups of students. Around age 17, teenagers receive frequent mailings from all branches of the military and may be contacted directly by recruiters.

MPS officials estimate that "opt-out" forms are filed for less than 1% of students. The percentage in other school districts in Wisconsin is believed to be in the same ballpark.

MPS includes a form allowing parents to withdraw their children's names from the list submitted to the military in a booklet of policies and other information sent to all parents at the start of each school year.

A Milwaukee School Board committee spent more than two hours Tuesday night debating changes proposed by Blewett, which would restrict military recruiters to three visits a year at high schools and aggressively seek to make parents aware of how to keep student information from going to recruiters.

The committee passed a milder proposal that calls for increased efforts to inform parents of the opt-out rules while awaiting legal advice on what limits can be set for recruiters in schools.

The full board will take up the issue tonight.

Opposition to military recruiting has emerged in school districts across the country, and a bill has been introduced in Congress that would switch the opt-out rule to an "opt-in" rule in which student information would not be given to recruiters without specific permission from parents. In addition, a national movement has formed called Leave My Child Alone, which encourages opposition to military recruiting in high schools.

Visits by Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine representatives to high schools have become a standard part of recruiting work and generally take place within a smooth operating relationship between recruiters and administrators and guidance counselors at high schools.

Visits generally smooth

Marine Staff Sgt. Shawn Myers said Wednesday that his relationship with 24 high schools, mostly in the southern half of Milwaukee County, has been good. He said he has encountered no problems with staff or students at the schools, even as the war in Iraq has continued. Myers visits many schools as often as every other week, he said, sometimes to meet with one student who is a potential recruit and sometimes aiming to reach students in general.

Myers said the procedures for military recruiters visits vary depending on the school, and that he follows each school's guidelines.

Marine recruiters believe that about 60% of people who join made their first contact through a school presentation, Myers said. Visiting schools is simply a more efficient and effective way of reaching possible recruits than telephone calls or going door to door, he said.

Capt. Troy Kalbo, who commands the local Marine recruiting station, said that while the U.S. military is often described as all-volunteer, he would describe it as "all-recruited."

"People don't come in the door volunteering," Kalbo said. They need to hear about what a military career offers.
Anti-war sentiment at issue

About 60 people, including several long-term anti-war activists, attended Tuesday night's meeting of the Milwaukee School Board's Rules and Policies Committee, and 18 people testified in favor of tighter rules on recruiters.

No one appeared on behalf of the military or in support of recruiters' work in high schools.

At the meeting, students from several high schools, particularly Riverside University High School, gave less-positive descriptions of military recruiters' work.

One said a recruiter made a salacious remark to her as she passed him, one said a recruiter blocked him from proceeding to class and argued with him after he said he didn't want to be recruited, and a third said recruiters seemed to focus particularly on tables where African-American and Hispanic students sit in the cafeteria.

School Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said he found the testimony "very compelling" and that he wanted to find out more about the actual practices of recruiters in city high schools. Andrekopoulos said he wanted to be sure recruiters were not interfering with educational activities.

— Alan J. Borsuk
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel


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