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Students campaign to restrict military recruiting at high schools

By Molly Walsh

Emily Coon has a message for her political representatives in Washington: Stop requiring high schools to hand over student contact information to military recruiters.

The 17-year-old senior at Mount Mansfield Union High School in Jericho has helped collect more than 200 signatures on a petition that asks for changes in the No Child Left Behind Act. The 2002 federal education reform law requires schools to provide student addresses and phone numbers to military recruiters unless the students specifically ask that the information not be forwarded.

Sixty-two percent of students at Mount Mansfield opted out this year. Their addresses and phone numbers should automatically be private, and the law as written violates student privacy, said Coon, founder of the MMU Peace Club.

Coon and other students in the Peace Club are also working to restrict military recruiting at their school. Recruiters visit too often and present misleading information to a captive student body, she said. "We can't get out of our schools," Coon said. "We have to be there every day."

She presented a petition to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at a Burlington meeting on No Child Left Behind this week. The MMU Peace Club is taking other action, too. Today it joins the Iraq Veterans Against the War to sponsor a rally at the U.S. Army Burlington Recruiting Station on Sycamore Street in Williston. Fliers for the 3 p.m. rally urge an end to the "insidious and pervasive presence of military recruiters preying on our young people with their arsenal of lies and deception in our public schools ... ."

"We're not against high school students signing up, but we feel that a lot of times the recruiters, they don't tell the whole truth about the military," Coon said.

Student activism on military enlistment is particularly charged now at MMU. Army Pfc. Adam Muller, a 2004 graduate of the school and a resident of Jonesville, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq on Nov. 5. "Our teachers knew him, our older siblings knew him," Coon said. "It's just not OK that he died."

The Peace Club is proposing that military recruiters visit the school only when a student invites them, and that they visit privately with that student. Recruiters now set up tables in central areas with pamphlets and giveaways.

Military recruiters have visited MMU six times this school year, Principal Jennifer Botzojorns said.

The school has no guidelines on how frequently military recruiters can visit. Botzojorns said she wants to develop rules that apply to military recruiters and visitors from colleges and other organizations that offer post-secondary opportunities to students.

The guidelines are needed to control the volume of visits, Botzojorns said. She does not support guidelines that would restrict military recruiters to visiting only with an individual student when that student has invited the recruiter to the school.

"If St. Michael's comes and sets a table up, if IBM comes and sets a table up, the Army should be able to come and set a table up," Botzojorns said. "I think they should be treated equally."

Restrictions on access to student contact information and on high school recruiting would reduce opportunities for students who want to be in the military, said Andy Entwistle, chief of advertising and public affairs for the Albany (N.Y.) Army Recruiting Battalion. The Albany Battalion oversees recruiting at 52 offices, including the Army recruiting office in Williston, where staff referred calls from a reporter to Entwistle.

Entwistle said recruiters try to call every student telephone number that high schools provide under the No Child Left Behind Act. Recruiting tables at schools are also an important outreach, he said. "Certainly, there are people that have joined the Army from table displays at high school who might not otherwise have, and those people are doing very well and are very happy," Entwistle said. "It's a shame to cut off that kind of access for some students who have decided that no one needs that access."

After national media reports about dishonest recruiting tactics in Colorado, the Army made a renewed effort to provide accurate and truthful information to potential recruits, Entwistle said. He said this means telling prospects that enlisting could translate to deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan and injury or death.

Vermont recruiters are trained "not to lie," Entwistle said. "We expect that they won't, we hope that they won't and we have no indication that any of them have."

The Williston recruiting office makes outreach efforts to 22 Vermont high schools, including MMU. In fiscal year 2007, no students at MMU enlisted, Entwistle said.

The Army fell short of recruitment goals in the region for fiscal year 2007. The Burlington Recruiting Company, which includes most of Vermont and a small part of upstate New York, enlisted 186 people out of goal of 297 people.

— Molly Walsh
Burlington Free Press


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