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No Soldier Left Behind: Military recruiting in high school is more common

By Doug Hissom

Recruiters in high schools have been commonplace since the first career day was held. Now, though, students are becoming familiar with some recruiters more than others—especially those from the military. That’s because a little-known clause in the massive No Child Left Behind education law of 2002 has given the military virtual carte blanche to become part of the culture of today’s high schools.

Thanks to No Child Left Behind, not only are recruiters a regular fixture in high school hallways, but schools are also required to give the military home addresses and phone numbers of students. A school district faces the loss of federal funding if it doesn’t comply.

About 7% of the $1 billion Milwaukee Public Schools budget comes from federal aid. Those questioning the practice note that college and job recruiters do not have the same access granted to the military.

The effect goes beyond the loss of money. A grandparent of a Riverside University High School junior wrote to Milwaukee School Board member Peter Blewett, saying he was “personally distressed” to find out that his granddaughter was receiving telephone calls at home from recruiters and that her friends had been asked to leave classrooms to be interviewed by recruiters.

“This has been very upsetting to her and to her parents,” the grandfather wrote.

This wasn’t the only example of the military’s new heavy-handed tactics. Another Riverside student had recruiters visit his home while his parents were away. In other schools, recruiters have gone to gym classes and had students run through obstacle courses, telling them that’s what basic training is like. The recruiters follow up with phone calls at home and an invitation down to the recruiting office.

“They’re all over the place,” confirmed a Rufus King teacher. “They hang out at the guidance office, follow kids to the cafeteria and they sit and have lunch with them. It’s very disturbing.”

The teacher said the military presence in the schools is starting to be a concern for educators since it is increasing in frequency, but they haven’t done anything formal yet.

Blewett said MPS is violating its own written policy by giving out addresses and phone numbers. The policy, which was passed in 2000, states that a school can give out a student’s name, his or her height, weight, activities, sports participation and awards. He said the board has never authorized the MPS administration to give out addresses and phone numbers. Until this week, when contacted for this story, he thought that information was not released.

Blewett said he will ask for a legal opinion explaining how the district could be in violation of its own policy. “The administration has not been able to answer to my satisfaction how they could do this,” he said of the violation of the MPS policy. “The board specifically wanted students’ privacy protected.”

He said that until there is a satisfactory answer the district should follow its current rule. Blewett said he wants to see a monetary breakdown on what it’s costing MPS to comply with the rule.

Blewett also said he has a problem with recruiters being able to call students out of classrooms.

“We’re talking about minors being contacted without their parents’ permission,” he said. “Personally, I have a real problem with the federal government doing that.”

Opting In and Out
Students can deny the military access to their addresses and phone numbers by having their parents sign an “opt out” form, which in Milwaukee is in the student handbook sent home to parents. Only about 200 of 25,000 MPS high school students have opted out, less than 1%. In Madison, 6%—495 out of 8,178 high school students—withheld their personal information from military recruiters.

Julie Enslow of Peace Action Wisconsin said the MPS figures show that parents are not being made aware of their option not to disclose information. In Montclair, N.J., for example, about 80% of the students opted out after a student-led organizing campaign.

“They know they’re going into a situation of kill or be killed,” she said.

A bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in February that would require parents to give permission for schools to give out address and phone number information, which is just the opposite of the “opt out” policy now.

In California, 23 school districts this year changed their policy to require parents’ permission to release addresses and phone numbers.

While the federal government has been protesting that the districts are violating the No Child Left Behind rules, no action has yet been taken.

And late last month the PTA of Garfield High School in Seattle voted to kick military recruiters out of the school altogether. They said it was in opposition to the military targeting poor and minority students as recruits. The National PTA supports their move.

Nonetheless, the military reports that none of the country’s 22,600 high schools has failed to comply with the military provisions in No Child Left Behind. The state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) confirmed that no school districts in Wisconsin have been threatened with sanctions, although DPI spokesman Joseph Donovan said many districts were confused about the recruiting policy when the law was first enacted.

The No Child Left Behind provision is similar to the law affecting recruiting on college campuses. Thanks to the 1994 Solomon Amendment, colleges and universities have been required to allow military recruiters on campuses or face the loss of federal funding. The U.S. Supreme Court will take up the constitutionality of the law later this year. Facing the prospect of losing federal money, the University of Wisconsin-Stout chancellor recently reversed his previous order to ban the campus ROTC because the military discriminated against gays.

Trying to Meet Goals
The Iraq war is taking its toll on the appeal of a military career, despite assurances from armed forces recruiters that it isn’t a huge factor.

Recruiting pressure appears to be hitting the Army the hardest and complaints have arisen from recruiters’ tactics. Since October, recruiters in the state regional office, which includes Wisconsin and the western two-thirds of the Upper Peninsula, are at only 66% of their goal.

Consequently, Army recruiters have received complaints about unethical tactics. College students in Madison have reported that they have been lied to about the length of duty and whether they were going to go to war in Iraq. Some have claimed that they watched recruiters falsify medical histories.

The problem appears to be a national one. For example, a high school student in Colorado was supplied with a fake diploma and ways to beat drug tests in order to get into the Army. In Houston, a recruiter threatened to arrest a high school student if he didn’t go to the recruiting office.

Complaints of improper recruiting tactics by the Army have increased substantially since 2003, with 957 reported nationwide in 2004, compared to 745 in 2002. All Army recruiters were summoned to a one-day seminar last month to talk specifically about ethics.

Pat Grobschmidt, of the Milwaukee public affairs office for the Army, said the session focused on ethics and the “quality of recruiting methods.”

Grobschmidt said while other armed forces enjoyed increased enlistment shortly after the war in Iraq and Afghanistan started, the Army experienced no real bump. There was more interest in signing up but that didn’t translate to more enlistments.

She said the health of the economy and the war are the reasons for the slow down in enlistment, but that “one doesn’t weigh more heavily than the other.” The unenthusiastic response to the Army comes in spite of a substantial increase in the number of recruiters, from 6,128 in 2004 to 7,545 in 2005.

In contrast to the Army, Air Force recruiting in the area is meeting its goals, said Sgt. Eric Petosky. That’s mainly because earlier this year Congress dropped the Air Force’s target for new recruits from 38,000 to 18,000. In the Milwaukee area, 59 people have been recruited from October to April.

Enslow of Peace Action Wisconsin said that she is concerned about heavy-handed tactics in the schools since recruiting goals are not being met.

Peace Action will work with the Milwaukee School Board to try to offer “counter-recruiting” in the schools. They have been able to place counter-recruiting tables in seven high schools, and by fall Enslow hopes to have access to every high school in the area. Peace Action has students manning tables at lunch hours with information on conscientious objection and other non-military options.


— Doug Hissom


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