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Districts Taking On Recruiters

February 13, 2003|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

School districts are supposed to provide military recruiters with names, addresses and phone numbers of all high school juniors and seniors or else lose millions of dollars of federal money.

But some districts, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, now are offering students and parents a legal way to protect their privacy or shield themselves from any pressure to prove their patriotism during this time of possible war with Iraq.

The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education unanimously agreed Tuesday to turn over student data, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal education law passed in 2001. At the same time, the board authorized district officials to mail forms each year that families can use to block data from being provided to the military, other governmental agencies, colleges or businesses.

San Francisco is going further. The requirement to provide student data is "an outrageous invasion of privacy," said Jill Wynns, a member of the San Francisco Board of Education.

"We don't give that information out to Microsoft, McDonald's, Harvard, Stanford or the City College of San Francisco. And we don't want to give it to the U.S. Army," she said.

Fearing the loss of federal funds, the San Francisco board reluctantly agreed last month to provide the information to recruiters. But students there now will have to fill out a card stating whether they want their information released. In the past, San Francisco had banned recruiters because of the military's policy against homosexuals.

The district is also studying the legality of a possible "opt in" policy, which would send information to the military only about students who actively request that.

Wynns said youngsters need that extra layer of privacy. "Military recruiters are aggressive in a way that no other kinds of recruiters are," she said. "Young people are not accustomed to dealing with this kind of intense pressure."

Pentagon spokeswoman Sandra Troeber stressed that the phone numbers are an important tool in ensuring that the nation is protected by having enough well-qualified recruits available to the military.

Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said the requirement is simply a method to "help recruiters share information for potential military opportunities for young Americans." Each district is allowed to create its own "opt out" methods under the law, he said.

Esther Wong, assistant superintendent of assessment and research for Los Angeles Unified, said the district has been providing the military, as well as some nonprofit organizations and colleges, with student names and addresses since 1994. The phone numbers are a new addition.

Families have always had the option to decline to provide such information if they filled out and mailed in a form provided in a parent and student handbook. Now, each family will also receive a letter at home explaining the law and their right to withhold information, Wong said.

"We hope parents do pay attention when these types of mailers come home," she said.

A first round of such letters was mailed home in the fall, she said, and nearly 8% of the district's 65,000 high school juniors and seniors said they did not want their information released. As a result of Tuesday's board vote, such mailings will become annual exercises.

Luis Sanchez, associate director of Inner City Struggle, a nonprofit group that works to improve Los Angeles schools and has opposed military recruitment on high school campuses, said the law is unbalanced because many students who get calls from the military will not hear from colleges.

He disagreed with the "opt out" procedure because it requires filling out and mailing in a separate form. He prefers an opt-in method, like the one San Francisco is considering.

At Belmont High School in Los Angeles, student Sandro Macias, 17, said he was going to tell his mother to withhold his phone number.

"I'm against a war in Iraq and I don't want to fight in it," he said.

On the other hand, Capistrano Unified, a south Orange County school district, has been turning over contact information for its high school students "for years" before it was required, said spokesman David Smollar. Parents in the district can opt out by signing a portion on the card that provides emergency information to the schools.

"Parents in our district like to know the postsecondary options for their children," he said. "The military is just one of those things."

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Times staff writers Claire Luna and Kishan Putta contributed to this report.

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