The Guardian November 20, 2002

USA: No children left unrecruited

Sharon Shea-Keneally, principal of Mount Anthony Union High School in 
Bennington, Vermont, was shocked when she received a letter in May from 
military recruiters demanding a list of all her students, including names, 
addresses, and phone numbers. The school invites recruiters to participate 
in career days and job fairs, but like most school districts, it keeps 
student information strictly confidential. "We don't give out a list of 
names of our kids to anybody", says Shea-Keneally, "not to colleges, 
churches, employers  nobody."

But when Shea-Keneally insisted on an explanation, she was in for an even 
bigger surprise: The recruiters cited the No Child Left Behind Act, 
President Bush's sweeping new education law passed earlier this year.

There, buried deep within the law's 670 pages, is a provision requiring 
public secondary schools to provide military recruiters not only with 
access to facilities, but also with contact information for every student -
- or face a cut off of all federal aid. "I was very surprised the 
requirement was attached to an education law", says Shea-Keneally. "I did 
not see the link."

The military complained this year that up to 15 per cent of the nation's 
high schools are "problem schools" for recruiters.

In 1999, the Pentagon says, recruiters were denied access to 19,228 
schools. David Vitter, a Republican Representative from Louisiana who 
sponsored the new recruitment requirement, says such schools "demonstrated 
an anti-military attitude that I thought was offensive".

To many educators, however, requiring the release of personal information 
intrudes on the rights of students.

"We feel it is a clear departure from the letter and the spirit of the 
current student privacy laws", says Bruce Hunter, chief lobbyist for the 
American Association of School Administrators.

Until now, schools could share student information only with other 
educational institutions. "Now other people will want our lists", says 
Hunter. "It's a slippery slope. I don't want student directories sent to 
Verizon either, just because they claim that all kids need a cell phone to 
be safe."

The new law does give students the right to withhold their records. But 
school officials are given wide leeway in how to implement the law, and 
some are simply handing over student directories to recruiters without 
informing anyone  leaving students without any say in the matter.

"I think the privacy implications of this law are profound", says Jill 
Wynns, President of the San Francisco Board of Education.

"For the federal government to ignore or discount the concerns of the 
privacy rights of millions of high school students is not a good thing, and 
it's something we should be concerned about."

Educators point out that the armed services have exceeded their recruitment 
goals for the past two years in a row, even without access to every school.

The new law, they say, undercuts the authority of some local school 
districts, including San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, that have barred 
recruiters from schools on the grounds that the military discriminates 
against gays and lesbians.

Officials in both cities now say they will grant recruiters access to their 
schools and to student information  but they also plan to inform students 
of their right to withhold their records.

Some students are already choosing that option. According to Principal 
Shea-Keneally, 200 students at her school  one-sixth of the student body 
 have asked that their records be withheld.

Recruiters are up-front about their plans to use school lists to 
aggressively pursue students through mailings, phone calls, and personal 
visits  even if parents object.

"The only thing that will get us to stop contacting the family is if they 
ca ll their congressman", says Major Johannes Paraan, head US Army 
recruiter for Vermont and north-eastern New York. "Or maybe if the kid 
died, we'll take them off our list."

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