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Bill Could Boost Recruiting at Schools

Privacy: Federal measure would force high schools to give names, addresses and phone numbers to the military.

November 02, 2001|RICHARD LEE COLVIN | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

U.S. high schools would be required to aid military recruiters by turning over the names, addresses and telephone numbers of their students under a federal bill that has drawn fire from educators and privacy advocates.

Nearly half of the schools in California and about a third nationwide restrict recruiters' access to that information or to their campuses, according to the Department of Defense. If the provision is approved by Congress and signed by President Bush, school districts that fail to comply could face substantial losses of federal aid.

Some opponents of the bill say it conflicts with privacy law, which prohibits the release of information about students without permission from their parents. Others are philosophically opposed to fueling the military's mission or object to its ban on openly gay and lesbian soldiers.

"We do not believe the school board should say, even by implication, that our students should look at the military as a first choice of careers," said Jill Wynns, the president of the San Francisco Board of Education.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 10, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Military recruiting--A Nov. 2 story in Section A on military recruiting in high schools omitted the fact that proposed federal legislation would give recruiters the same access to student directory information as is generally afforded colleges and universities.

Years of tension between privacy advocates and military recruiters have only been aggravated by the recent war on terrorism.

The campaign has boosted support for the military in Congress and elsewhere, some say at the expense of privacy rights. The recruitment measure this week won bipartisan support in a committee working on a federal education reform bill.

"I see no reason whatsoever, especially now with the war on terrorism, that any school should close off campuses [to] recruiting," said Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita). "All they are doing is coming on to recruit people. It's a noble profession and at times like this we sure turn to the military for help."

Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) pushed for the amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is being worked on by a joint committee of the House and Senate. The bill, which already has passed each house of Congress in different forms, also contains the student testing and school accountability policies advocated by President Bush.

"To better than 50% of our graduating seniors, the military may offer them the only chance to get a college education and it's a shame that they would not get information about that," Isakson said.

He said the amendment was not a reaction to the fight against terrorism, but "in light of Sept. 11 it makes all the more sense for the military to have at least the same access that colleges . . . have" to high school students.

Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist for the American Assn. of School Administrators, said he interprets privacy law to bar districts from releasing student information. He said the issue should be up to local districts, however.

"The communities and the states pay 93% of the bill for public education and they ought to be able to determine who . . . gets access to their kids," Hunter said.

Current practice varies widely across the country. In Connecticut, a relatively liberal and wealthy state, 89% of high schools limit military recruitment either by refusing to turn over contact information or by limiting on-campus visits. Nearly the same percentage of schools limit recruiters' access in Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine.

By contrast, almost all schools in more conservative states such as Colorado, South Dakota, Indiana, Texas and Utah are open to recruiters.

A spokesman for New York City's schools said the district allows recruiters to talk to students on campus but does not distribute their contact information.

"We're in favor of providing our students with as much information and as many career options as possible, and the military is certainly one of those options," said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the school district. However, the contact information is released only if subpoenaed in a lawsuit.

In Portland, Ore., the issue of military recruitment has been a contentious one for the last six years. School board member Marc Abrams began championing a ban on military recruiting as soon as he was elected to protest what he considers the Armed Forces' anti-homosexual policies.

"It's not about being anti-military, it's about being pro-democracy and civil rights," said Abrams, a lawyer and a prominent Democrat. "The second that all 55,000 students in the Portland Public Schools can serve in the military is the day I move to repeal my own policy."

In California, the Oakland Unified School District bans recruiters from campus and does not distribute student information unless parents request that it be done.

"The history is that these recruiters are like bounty hunters and they would hassle these kids until they signed up, and that was why the policy was put in place," said Oakland Supt. Dennis Chaconas.

Los Angeles public schools allow military recruiters to come to schools for career fairs and other events and to hold meetings on campus. The district also sells lists of its high school students' names to recruiters unless a parent submits a form asking to have the name withheld.

Some are uneasy with that policy.

"One of the things we have always been against is the district going ahead with certain things like that without the [explicit] consent of the parents," said Mary Toma, president of the 10th District PTA. "You don't do something like that unless parents give consent first."

Caprice Young, the president of the district's board of education, noted the competing interests that must be juggled in deciding how to handle the issue.

"It's really important that we all stand together as citizens of the U.S. in the context of national security, but we need to do it in a way that embraces the rights and liberties and, frankly, the privacy that made this country what it is," Young said.

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