'No Child' Law Caveat Provides Student Info to Military
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- When the U.S. Marine recruiter called Julien Maynard, the Palm Beach Lakes High School senior told him that he was college bound.
A few months later, the recruiter called again and for a second time Maynard said he wasn't interested in the military.
"I'm the kind of person that's geared toward books and college and not guns and war," said Maynard, who is ranked second in his class and has applied to Duke University, New York University and Emory University.
Maynard, who was puzzled at how the recruiter got his telephone number, experienced one of the military's weapons in recruiting: The No Child Left Behind Law. Thousands of high school students across America are being recruited by telephone because federal lawmakers passed the law in 2001 with a little-noticed provision that requires the nation's public schools to report the names, phone numbers and addresses of high school juniors and seniors to the military.
All branches of the armed forces now have access to students' information. The military now has a jumpstart on potential recruits long before males turning 18 are required to register with the Selective Service.
For peace activists across the country, the law has become a hot-button issue because they believe the military has been given unprecedented access to impressionable teens. The law is being used by the military to recruit teens without involving parents, according to some activists.
The controversial provision went virtually unnoticed until America's increased involvement in Iraq, according to peace activists. With military resources stretched thin and U.S. reserve units experiencing shortfalls in recruitment quotas, anti-war advocates launched a campaign to make it public.
The difficulty, according to the peace organizations, is that while the law gives parents an "opt out" option that prevents release of information to the military, most school districts in America aren't doing much to let parents know about it.
"I don't think people know they have the opportunity to have their child not recruited," said Richard Hersh, who is organizing a local effort to educate parents about military recruitment. "This is an attempt to make people aware of their rights under the law and encourage them to start asking questions."
Palm Beach County school officials said they're complying with the federal law. In fact, they've always provided military recruiters with students' personal information -- when asked, said Christie Ragsdale, a secondary guidance specialist at the district.
"This hasn't changed things very much," Ragsdale said.
However, under the new law recruiters don't have to ask, and the school district is mandated to give recruiters the personal information of all 12,661 juniors and 9,146 seniors, schools officials said. Typically, the information is provided to recruiters in the spring.
The only notice students get about the "opt out" option is contained in the Family and Student Handbook, which is handed out at the beginning of the school year. The handbook also is posted in the Document Center of the school district's Web site.
Ragsdale said parents have 10 days from the time the handbook is issued to write school officials requesting the information remain private. The request must be in writing; officials don't take them over the phone. Parents' next opportunity to opt out will be at the beginning of next school year.
Hersh said the school district must do more to inform parents of this part of the law. He and other peace activists plan to meet with school officials to see if they can visit high schools and explain the impact of the law.
"We're hoping to pass out materials and talk to as many high school kids as we can," Hersh said. "Parents and students need to know about this."
According to federal figures, 96 percent of America's public schools have complied with the federal law, said Lt. Col. Joseph Richard, a Pentagon public affairs spokesman.
All Florida public schools have complied with the measure, he said. The military is working with those schools that aren't in compliance, he said.
Failure to comply can result in public schools losing millions in federal education money, said Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Education in Washington. Bradshaw said the military monitors the compliance of schools and forwards the information to federal education officials.
"Ultimately, the penalty is to cut off the elementary and secondary education act dollars," Bradshaw said. "We haven't gotten near to that point."
Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, teacher's unions, peace organizations and some veteran's groups have joined in the effort to get out word on the law. The initial opposition included threats of lawsuits and protests.
But in two years, the most effective step by the organizations has been to educate parents about their right to keep the information private, peace activists agree.
In an effort to do what they believe schools failed to do, peace activists nationally mobilized, confronted school districts and even posted opt-out forms on the Internet.
In California, where the activism has been most aggressive, teachers in Los Angeles got the union involved and began meeting with administrators in the Los Angeles Unified School District, said Andy Griggs, a math coach and chairman of the human rights committee of the United Teachers of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles school district consists of 750,000 students compared to Palm Beach County's 174,387.
"We found so few people who even knew about the law. Our teachers didn't know about it," said Griggs. "We divided up the city into regions and exposed a lot of people to what was going on."
Griggs said the group held workshops, distributed information in several languages and met with community groups. Their efforts got the attention of Los Angeles schools officials, he said.
Bud Jacobs, the director of high school programs in Los Angeles, said the group's efforts prompted the school district to better inform parents about the law and provide a specific "opt out" form. Schools officials also extended the amount of time parents had to return the form to the district, Jacobs said.
"We are making parents more aware they can opt out," Jacobs said.
William Cooper Jr. writes for the Palm Beach Post.
William Cooper Jr.
Cox News Service
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