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High Schools to Open Student Rolls to Military

By Mark McGuigan
Staff Writer

Sept. 22 -- In a move necessary to keep federal dollars flowing, the School District last week unanimously adopted a policy amendment that makes personal student information at its three high schools available to military recruiters.

Under the old policy, the School Superintendent or a designee could release student directory information only to representatives of the news media, prospective employers and nonprofit organizations, including school alumni associations, but not to representatives of the United States military.

The move to include the military brings the district in line with a federal mandate under the No Child Left Behind Act by removing a line added to its policy in 1998 stating that “military service representatives shall not have access to directory information.” Parents and guardians, however, can protect a child's information by signing a waiver.

“It’s my feeling that we all felt our hands were tied,” School Board President Julia Brownley told The Lookout. “The only reason we approved it was because of the legal nature of it and our efforts to improve academic achievement and close the achievement gap. We can’t do that without federal dollars.”

The No Child Left Behind Act went into effect December 2002, part of President Bush’s plan to ensure that every child in America has access to a decent education as part of building a brighter future.

But buried within the law's 670 pages is Section 9528, a provision that grants the Pentagon access to high school directories containing student names, addresses and phone numbers.

Not only must all public secondary schools comply with any military request for personal student data, but they must also provide military recruiters free access to campus facilities. Failure to comply with this federal mandate will result in suspension of all federal aid.

“It’s legally allowed and has always been,” said Brownley. “But we have always been a school district that has a policy to say we will not do that. But with No Child Left Behind we could no longer do that anymore.”

In an open letter to teachers and administrators across America last October, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld offered a glimpse at the rationale behind the move to open up the nation’s schools to military recruiters.

“For more than 25 years, the Armed Forces of our Nation have been staffed entirely by volunteers,” the letter states. “The All-Volunteer Force has come to represent American resolve to defend freedom and protect liberty around the world. Sustaining that heritage requires the active support of public institutions in presenting military opportunities to our young people for their consideration.

“Student directory information will be used specifically for armed services recruiting purposes and for informing young people of scholarship opportunities,” the letter continues. “For some of our students, this may be the best opportunity they have to get a college education.”

But to School board member Oscar de la Torre, the executive director of the Pico Youth and Family Center, the federal mandate represents nothing less than an abuse of student privacy and a poorly cloaked excuse to prey on minority students.

“I think parents should be outraged instead of concerned,” said de la Torre, whose center targets at-risk youth. “With the combination of movies that glorify war and glorify violence and then a recruiter that promises the world to a seventeen or eighteen year old, I would be very concerned that recruiters have access to information on minors.”

Army recruiters make no attempt to hide the fact that they intend to use the lists of students that are made available to them. Stories have been circulating in the press this year about the hard-sell tactics being used to recruit students.

In early May one overzealous army recruiter set off a diplomatic maelstrom after he crossed the Mexican border into Tijuana in search of two high school students who had expressed an interest in joining the army in a San Diego recruitment office.

“The youth that you want to target are young people that don’t see college as an option,” said de la Torre, “and that happens to be low-income youth and youth of color and that’s where it becomes very troublesome.”

“I know of many young people that have been called not since the law passed but even before the law passed,” said de la Torre. “Now that the law is coming into effect I can only imagine that they are going to intensify their efforts to do marketing over the telephone, and these people are very well trained.”

At present the only way to opt out of the process is for parents or guardians to apply to the school for a waiver that would protect their child’s directory information and prevent potential military recruiters from calling.

“There is a way to waiver it,” explains Brownley. “Families can fill out a form and take their students off the list if they so desire. We make it pretty clear to families that they have that option.”

But the onus still remains on a child’s parents to make first contact with the school -- at present there is no automatic notification. Although, the No Child Left Behind Act does contain a waiver clause, the laws allowing schools to contact parents without their submitting a request are as yet unclear.

“We directed the superintendent at the last board meeting to see if we could write into the policy that we have this waiver system and to be really explicit about it in the policy,” said Brownley. “Our legal team is researching that to see if we could do it and still be in compliance with No Child Left Behind.

“We are following the letter of the law by having this waiver process," she said. "That’s the best we could do."

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