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Parents say no to recruiting

By Julia Lyon / The Bulletin

For some, the decision is a silent statement about a war they oppose. For others, it is about privacy.

Whatever the reason, more parents are telling the military no. They refuse to allow schools to disclose their child's contact information to recruiters.

In the Bend-La Pine School District, the numbers have jumped to almost 30 percent of 11th- and 12th-graders from 19 percent of those students last year.

That leap mirrors what is going on elsewhere in the state. In Portland Public Schools, 47 percent of juniors and seniors had parents refuse disclosure to recruiters as of this week. By the end of last school year, the number stood at 35 percent.

The thought of her children being sent to war terrifies Renee Smit, who has two daughters at Bend High.

"If they are recruited, then they might head over to the Middle East," Smit said. "I can't even imagine going through that as a mother."

She also noted that she couldn't see her girls fitting into the world of military culture.

A little-known provision in the federal No Child Left Behind education act requires schools to hand over juniors' and seniors' names, addresses and telephone numbers, if requested, to military recruiters. Though the law refers to all secondary school students, federal officials have said it applies specifically to juniors and seniors.

Parents have the option of keeping their child's name out of a recruiter's database. Although districts handle the disclosure issue differently, all high school students in Bend-La Pine receive an annual form parents can sign if they don't want recruiters to have access to their child's contact information.

Parents with high-school-age children in Portland Public Schools can ask that their teenager's information be withheld via a registration form all students receive annually.

The jump in numbers at the 47,000-student school district probably connects to its effort to inform parents of their options and "generally the mood in the country about the war," according to Portland Schools spokeswoman Sarah Carlin Ames.

But regardless of parents' feelings about the Iraq conflict, Roger Long's decision to withhold his son's contact information from the military is linked to how he feels about No Child Left Behind. The act has failed in its overt agenda to improve education, the Bend man said.

"I did not believe that an education bill like No Child Left Behind should be a vehicle for a hidden agenda like military recruitment," said Long, who is a parent of a Mountain View High School freshman.

He described the war in Iraq as a "boondoggle."

"We certainly don't support it with our children's lives," Long said.

His son, Dylan Blackhorse-von Jess, 14, said he felt giving out personal information to the military is a violation of his rights.

"I think it's taking away some of our freedoms to security and privacy," he said.

Some parents worry about a recruiter's potentially aggressive tactics or don't want to see a recruiter contact their child without involving the parent. But not signing the military nondisclosure form doesn't mean every student is actively sought out by the military.

Leslie Olson's Summit High son is a junior, but he hasn't been contacted by the military as far as she knows. She doesn't really know what the opt-out process is.

"It hasn't been a problem, so it's not on my to-do list," she said.

Steve Fox, whose son is a senior at Mountain View, said his son has gotten a few calls from the military. His older daughter, a valedictorian, was pursued a little more, which he wasn't surprised by in light of her achievement.

"If there is a sentiment that kids are being too aggressively pursued, I didn't feel that with either kid," Fox said.

Joining the military can be a good path for some kids, he said.

"(For) a number of kids it's a great option," he said. "For them to understand the possibilities is a good thing."

Kim Evers, the principal at Obsidian Middle School in Redmond, describes the Army as "awesome" for her. It paid for her education through her master's degree and would even pay for more schooling if she wants it. Evers has spent 23 years serving in either the Army or National Guard.

She realizes there can be what some people would consider a flip side to enlisting. Now a major in the Oregon Army National Guard, Evers says parents may have become cautious in light of the ongoing war and the president saying there's no immediate plan to pull out our troops and occupation is possible for 10 years.

"It used to be just great training and now there might be something much more required of students - either a deployment or our life," she said. "We've lost 2,000 troops."

In the Redmond School District, the number of students whose parents have refused to disclose their contact information overall - such as to colleges and recruiters - has leapt from six students last school year to 220 this school year.

But Dave Perdue, Redmond High assistant principal, attributes the increase to a change on an enrollment form, which now asks parents of new students whether their child's contact information can be disclosed in general.

"I think it's more due to our process than a political statement on the war," he said. "As you read more and more about identity theft and all the things that go on with folks' personal information, I think people are a little more leery about the release of personal information these days."

Not every district has seen a jump in numbers. In Crook County, only a handful of kids' parents have opted out of disclosure both this year and last, according to high school Principal Jim Golden. However, only new students, such as freshmen or new residents, are asked the opt-out question. All students will be asked the question next year on a separate form. Data for the last two years was not available from Sisters or Madras high schools.

Hoping to provide a different perspective than military recruiters, a handful of veterans want access to high schools to talk to students. Bryan Turner, an Army combat medic in Vietnam, said he doesn't want to stop students from enlisting. But he does want to help students make an informed choice.

"I've talked to kids in these high schools who have this concept they're bulletproof ... They think it's a video game, that's how they think of combat," he said.

But the Bend-La Pine high school principals have decided against giving the small, informal veterans group access, according to Vicki Van Buren, the district's executive director of secondary programs.

"We need to know the legitimacy behind the different types of organizations that want to come in to meet with our students," she said, noting that the veterans group Randall represents is "unknown." "We don't know how they're going to conduct business they want to conduct."

The Army's last recruiting year, from October 2004 until the end of this September, was "difficult" nationwide, according to Gary Stauffer, public affairs officer for the Army's Portland recruiting office.

The Army doesn't have a historical perspective on whether enlistment numbers typically go up or down during times of war, because this is the first sustained conflict since the end of the draft and the beginning of the all-volunteer Army, he said.

Although 795 Oregonians enlisted in the Army in fiscal year 2005, up from 750 the year before, numbers dropped in Bend. Thirty-three people signed up in fiscal year 2005 versus 57 the year before. Nationally, an improving economy played a role in the overall decline, as did the war in Iraq, he said. Kids would initially be interested in enlisting after talking to recruiters.

"But then when it came time to include Mom and Dad in that decision, it would be either Mom or Dad that said, 'You need to wait,'" Stauffer said.


— Julia Lyon
The Bulletin


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