Some opt out of military options
The Pentagon and the Education Department say they don't track how many students ask not to be contacted by military recruiters, but opposition is growing.
By Judy Keen
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. — Brian Berman, a senior at Stevenson High School, doesn't want to join the military, doesn't want calls from recruiters, doesn't want them at his door.
So his parents signed a form that prevents the school from giving his contact information to recruiters. A provision of the No Child Left Behind law requires high schools to share students' names, phone numbers and addresses with military recruiters unless students or their parents choose to opt out.
Recruiters still come to school, he says, and "try to act all friendly." Berman, 18, doesn't buy their pitches about career and educational opportunities. "It's ridiculous," he says. "They're trying to bribe you to enlist."
Pentagon officials say recruiters just want the same information that goes to colleges and companies to make career pitches to students.
If Berman's parents had not signed the form, the school would be required to share his contact information with military recruiters under the 2001 law.
More than half of the nearly 4,500 students at Stevenson in this north Chicago suburb have submitted the forms. Schools that don't comply risk losing federal funds. None have so far.
Spreading the word
The Pentagon and the Education Department don't track how many students ask not to be contacted by military recruiters. Opponents of the practice are spreading the word that parents must take action if they object:
•A conference called "Education Not Militarization!" will be held Saturday in Los Angeles. Arlene Inouye, a high-school teacher and founder of the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools, says the group has members in 50 schools who make sure parents and students know their rights.
Lupe Lujan of San Gabriel, Calif., got involved in the group after her son Samuel, then 17, showed up at home a couple years ago with a military recruiter to get Samuel's Social Security card, needed to take a military aptitude test. "I was very happy to tell the recruiter, 'You're not taking my son,' " Lujan says.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill this fall that would have required schools to include an opt-out box to check on student emergency-contact cards. Some schools mail notices about opting out to parents, others send them home with students.
•Parents and peace activists in Montgomery County, Md., distributed opt-out forms to parents at back-to-school nights this fall.
•In Duluth, Minn., the Parent Teacher Student Association Council persuaded high schools to push back the deadline to turn in the forms from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1 and stepped up efforts to make parents aware of the requirement.
•The National PTA supports changing the federal law so recruiters could not approach students unless their parents "opt in" and request such contact.
Marine Maj. Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman, says the law doesn't give the military an edge over other institutions interested in giving students career choices. It requires schools to "provide military recruiters the same access that's provided to colleges and other prospective employers," he says.
Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox in Kentucky, says recruiters want to work with the schools. "The idea is to have a strong personal and professional relationship with your schools," he says.
Students who submit the opt-out forms, Smith says, aren't necessarily precluding all contact. "It means that the school isn't going to give us that student contact information," he says. "It doesn't mean the recruiter might not contact the student anyway."
Recruiters can get students' names from other sources, such as career days at schools. If a student calls a military branch's toll-free number, responds to a letter or asks for information online, recruiters can make contact, Smith says.
Juniors and seniors are the focus of recruiters from all military branches. At Stevenson, recruiters organize exercise competitions and give prizes such as key chains and T-shirts.
That doesn't bother Kris Ozga, 17, a senior. His parents didn't sign the opt-out form, and he gets calls from recruiters, even on his cellphone. "They're like, 'Oh, have you even thought about enlisting?' " he says. He did think about it, but he's pursuing a college baseball scholarship.
He didn't like some recruiters' style. "Sometimes they don't back off," he says.
Kareem Miller, 17, didn't opt out and sometimes gets three or four calls a month. "It doesn't really bother anybody," he says. "It might make people worry, though, if there's a draft."
Students recruited for years
Recruiting high-school students isn't new. Pam Polakow, whose son attended Stevenson before the law took effect in 2002, says military recruiters were "extremely persistent" when he was in school, calling at least once a week. "I was very uncomfortable," she says.
Daniel Mater, 17, a Stevenson senior, says his parents signed the form. "They made the decision, but I never had any interest in the military," he says. "It saves me time."
Senior Gino Ciarroni, 18, has been talking to recruiters from the Army, Marines and Navy. "I'm interested in serving my country," he says, "and getting help with college." He's had trouble, though, getting answers about what military job he would qualify for and how much money he'd get for college.
Recruiters gave him their cellphone numbers and seem to be "there to help," he says. He's considering joining the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
Senior Robert Warren, 17, doesn't mind the calls. "They're very respectful," he says. "When I told them I'm not interested, they stopped calling."
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