Schools let teens block recruiters
Kudos to superintendents who are following Fairport, NY superintendent Bill Cala's lead on putting the opt out/opt in form on the back of the emergency card.
by Trevor Maxwell
Most parents of teenagers don't realize that schools provide phone numbers and addresses to military recruiters until the calls and brochures arrive, two Portland School Committee members say.
"For the past two years, all a military recruiter has to do is call up a high school and say give us your list," Stephen Spring said.
He and Ben Meiklejohn plan to greet students at the steps of Portland High School on the first day of classes, next week, to let them know how to block such recruitment strategies.
The school district last year gave families a chance to opt out of the contact program, but parents had to complete a special form. Spring believes that the notice generally was ignored in each student's mountain of paperwork, as fewer than 2 percent of students opted out.
This year the option is printed on the district's emergency notification card - an essential form for students.
"I would guess that probably close to 90 percent of the students and families will opt out, just by the nature of being aware of it," said Spring, who chaired the subcommittee that suggested the change.
School districts nationwide are debating a little-known statute within the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
Section 9528 requires schools to provide information about students to military recruiters, unless parents specifically opt out of the program. Districts that don't comply risk a loss of federal funding.
Supporters say the rule simply guarantees recruiters the same access that colleges and private businesses enjoy. Opponents like Spring say it's an invasion of privacy, and a stealthy way for the Pentagon to reach out to younger Americans.
Males have long been required to register with U.S. Selective Service by their 18th birthdays, and that information is shared with recruiters. Section 9528 opened greater access to all minors.
"As they are stepping up their recruitment efforts," Spring said, "we are trying to find ways to protect our students."
The debate over recruitment plays out against the backdrop of the war in Iraq and the sharp public divide over U.S. involvement there. While he opposes the war, Spring said his leadership on the recruitment issue is about protection of civil liberties.
Pentagon officials said this summer that a central database of high school students helps identify individuals who meet requirements for military service. Data is also collected from drivers' license records and other sources.
"Using multiple sources allows the compilation of a more complete list of eligible candidates to join the military," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke told The Washington Post.
Portland is among four or five districts nationwide that have included the opt-out choice on emergency forms, Spring said. One district, in Montclair, N.J., notifies incoming freshmen twice. That policy was featured in NEA Today, the magazine of the nation's largest education association.
"After the most recent round of notices, Montclair reports that 92 percent of parents asked the schools not to give their children's contact information to the military," the magazine reported in its May edition.
The Leave My Child Alone coalition, a national advocacy group that has built a campaign over the past six months, reports that 15,000 students have "opted out" through its Web site.
Last week, district trustees in Mendocino, Calif., voted to support the opt-out movement, the coalition reported.
Portland Superintendent Mary Jo O'Connor does not take a stance on the issue. She does not believe, though, that recruiters have become more aggressive or represent a problem or nuisance for students.
"For years we have had recruiters in our schools," O'Connor said. "We are a public institution, so we can't say you can (talk to students) and you can't. For those students who may be interested in a military career, it serves a need." At the same time, the superintendent said she fully supports giving parents a choice.
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