Monday, September 26, 2005

Military Recruiters And The Need To Know

Unless a child or his parents actively seek to "opt-out," certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act mandate that all public high schools shall furnish local military recruiters with student contact information: (emphasis added)
High schools are the latest anti-war battleground, with parents, students, educators and activists around the country stepping up campaigns to prevent military recruiters from reaching students.

Many of the efforts focus on a provision in President Bush's 2002 No Child Left Behind law that requires federally funded secondary schools to give military recruiters the same access to students as they do college or job recruiters.

The exceptions: Private schools that have a religious objection to military service don't have to comply. And parents can "opt out" of providing details, including names, addresses and phone numbers, to military recruiters.

Among recent activity:

• "Opt-out" events planned through November in 321 communities are giving parents and students 18 or older forms asking school officials to not release personal information or school records to military officials. They can send similar requests to the Pentagon. By Tuesday, more than 24,000 opt-outs had been requested, says Leave My Child Alone, a national coalition coordinating the events. Meanwhile, a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., would prevent schools from releasing private information to military recruiters unless families request it.

• Seattle's school board this month voted to tighten districtwide military recruitment policies, and made clear that conscientious objectors can have equal access to students. Other districts, including Toledo (Ohio) Public Schools, this year highlighted the opt-out option in brochures sent to families.

• Grass-roots groups last month launched a series of "Not Your Soldier" camps that teach students ages 13 to 22 how to counter military recruiters. Topics include non-violent campaigns and the ROTC.

The efforts come at a time when some military branches, especially the Army, are struggling to meet recruitment goals.

Unlike anti-war marches, "counter-recruitment" campaigns represent "one of the ways pressure is being put directly on the military," says Bill Dobbs of United for Peace and Justice, a New York group sponsoring a counter-recruitment conference Sunday in Washington as part of a Peace and Justice Festival. "It's the next big thing for the anti-war movement."

But many "opt-out" supporters cite privacy issues. Many were alarmed to learn that a database being created this year for the Pentagon would include students' personal information, such as Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses and grade-point averages.

"It's so insidious," says Kim-Shree Maufas, a San Francisco mother involved in local opt-out efforts. "You figure if anyone wants to get to your kid they have to go through you. Not in this case."

Douglas Smith, spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command, says high schools are an important venue because "it's the last time we'll have them all in one place."

He says most recruiters move on if they get a "hard no" from a student. But "If we get a soft no ... I think that's an (invitation) for recruiters to call again," he says.

I have no problem at all with military recruiters visiting high schools as part of "career day" type activities. During these turbulent times, they have the important and vital mission of recruiting qualified young men and women for our country's armed forces.

However, as a practicing classroom teacher, I believe that access to all
confidential information pertaining to high school (or even college) students should be on a strict "need to know" basis, with the use of such information being restricted to school, law enforcement/court, and social services personnel for legitimate academic, discipline, and health-related issues.

I also firmly believe that only personnel who have passed rigourous background checks before they come anywhere near information as sensitive as our students' phone numbers and residential addresses.

Having said that, this is one of many parts of No Child Left Behind that needs to be repealed or modified. The private records of our students should remain exactly that-- private.
View the latest edition of The Carnival Of Education, hosted here at The Wonks, as well as entry instructions for this week's edition right here. Take a look at our latest posts over there.