Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

School Recruiters Meet Resistance

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

School Recruiters Meet Resistance

Article excerpt

Last summer Mark Spencer's 17-year-old son received a phone call from a military recruiter. Mr. Spencer told the recruiter not to call his son again. An hour later, the recruiter called their Mesquite, Texas, residence a second time. The next week he left phone messages.

"It's a predatory practice," says Spencer, "to keep calling students even if their parents object."

Predatory practice or civic responsibility? The government, parents, and some school districts disagree.

"It's a George W. Bush thing," says Santa Cruz, Calif., school board commissioner Cece Pinheiro, referring to the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind federal education act, which became law in 2001. "We've been fighting this for some time."

Deep in the education law's 670 pages lies a provision that requires public secondary schools to give military recruiters the names, addresses, and phone numbers of their students (mainly high school juniors and seniors). Some school districts responded to the new law by designing consent forms. Unless parents signed them, information about their children was not sent to the recruiters.

This summer, however, over 20 California school districts - including those in San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Santa Cruz - were warned that such consent forms did not comply with the law.

The problem: These consent forms automatically withheld student information from military recruiters unless parents stated that their child's information should be released. School officials refer to it as an "opt in" form because it contains only a "Yes" box to mark. There isn't a need for a "No" box because an unreturned form means a "No" decision, they say.

Jill Wynns, a commissioner on San Francisco's decidedly antiwar school board, says fewer than 80 out of nearly 19,000 district high school students returned the forms the previous school year.

The procedure didn't satisfy the US Department of Defense.

On July 2, it issued a joint letter with the Department of Education that read, "Contrary to an 'opt-in' process, the referenced law requires an 'opt out' notification process, whereby parents are notified and have an opportunity to request the information not be disclosed." In other words, an unreturned or missing consent form should indicate that a parent wanted his or her child's information given to military recruiters, and not the other way around.

Since parents and students often don't return school forms in a timely manner, "that's what the issue is really about," says Josh Sonnenfeld, student organizer of the current "opt out" campaign in Santa Cruz.

Sonnenfeld, who's trying to get all parents and students to send back their forms by the district's Dec. 19 deadline, says the military relies on the default procedure to increase its access to more student names. …

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