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New law: High schools must help with Pentagon recruiting

Posted: Wednesday, December 04, 2002

BOSTON -- A little-noticed provision in a new federal education law is requiring high schools to hand over to military recruiters some key information about its juniors and seniors: name, address and phone number.

The Pentagon says the information will help it recruit young people to defend their country. But the new law disturbs parents and administrators in some liberal communities that aren't exactly gung-ho about the armed forces.

Some say the law violates students' privacy and creates a moral dilemma over the military's ''don't ask, don't tell'' policy on gays.

''I find it appalling that the school is sending out letters to do the job of the military,'' said Amy Lang, the parent of a student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where Coke was once banned in a protest against the soda giant's investments in apartheid South Africa. ''It's clearly an invasion of my daughter's privacy.''

The No Child Left Behind law, signed last January, pumps billions into education but also gives military recruiters access to the names, addresses and phone numbers of students in 22,000 schools. The law also says that schools must give the military the same access to their campuses that businesses and college recruiters enjoy.

School systems that fail to comply could lose federal money. The measure also applies to private schools receiving federal funding. But Quaker schools and others that have a religious objection to military service can get out of the requirement.

Students and parents who oppose the law can keep their information from being turned over to the military, but they must sign and return an ''opt-out'' form.

The Boston school system, which has 7,500 juniors and seniors, included the opt-out notice in a take-home student handbook, but fewer than a dozen parents opted out.

So far, 95 percent of the nation's schools are in compliance, said Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Sandra Troeber. She would not identify the other schools. But Education Department spokesperson Dan Langan said that the current focus is on cooperation and that no schools have been sanctioned.

Federal law already requires men to register with the Selective Service within 30 days of turning 18. The new law, however, enables the Pentagon to reach potential recruits when they are 15 or 16.

In New York City, Daniel Alterman was taken aback when his 15-year-old son, a junior at Stuyvesant High, received a recruitment letter.

''Parents are in the dark,'' Alterman said. ''It freaked me out. I didn't sign up to support the military effort.''

Alterman said after he opted out, his son received another letter, this one promoting scholarships. ''It was very seductive. They didn't say anything about risk to personal safety,'' Alterman said.

Among those objecting to the new requirements is the New York City chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Executive director Donna Lieberman said that the opt-out provision is inadequate and that schools should be doing more to protect students' privacy.

In a letter last month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Education Secretary Rod Paige reminded high school administrators of their duty, and cited ''the excellent educational opportunities the military affords, as well as an environment that encourages the development of strong character and leadership skills.''

The Pentagon said better access to students could also hold down the rising costs of recruitment. Over the past decade, the cost per recruit has nearly doubled from $6,500 to $11,600.

Before the law, military recruiters could meet with students in Cambridge and Northampton on campus only if the student sought them out, and then only at a meeting attended by a guidance counselor. But Cambridge held a military career fair at the high school a month ago.

''It's a vast departure from the way we've done business,'' said Donna Harlan, an associate superintendent in the Northampton school system. ''We are not in the business of giving lists of names of kids to anybody. That was tough. The issue was if we were to receive federal or state money, we had to comply with the law.''

The law also spelled the end of a 6-year ban on military recruiting on campus in Portland, Ore. After contending that the ''don't ask, don't tell'' policy discriminates against gays, the school system now gives recruiters a shot at its 16,000 students.

In Massachusetts, Framingham High senior April Middleton decided over lunch recently that maybe the military is in her future after talking with Army National Guard Sgt. Louis Perrin, a recruiter who visited the cafeteria.

Middleton, 18, said she plans to enlist after she graduates, and the prospect of war has not scared her off. ''Sometimes you've got to make sacrifices,'' she said.

Sometimes, however, recruiters battle hostility.

''One teacher said we were trying to brainwash kids. All we were doing was handing out pencils,'' Perrin said. ''We're not trying to invade anybody's privacy. We're just trying to protect their freedoms.''



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