Published by the Boston Globe
WASHINGTON – A little-noticed provision in a new federal education law requires high schools to provide names, addresses, and phone numbers of students to military recruiters. Schools that refuse to comply face losing federal education funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
We opposed it primarily on privacy grounds, that students or parents should be able to control access to directory information, such as names, addresses, ages. That information shouldn’t be sent out to military recruiters unless parents want it sent out.
Christopher Anders, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union Under the rule, part of the No Child Left Behind Act signed earlier this year, Pentagon recruiters are entitled to students’ contact information unless parents opt out of sharing the data, a requirement that has alarmed civil libertarians and school administrators.
”We don’t wish to appear antimilitary. The military is a great first step out of high school for a lot of kids, and it is a fine career for some people,” said Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators.
Nevertheless, the association opposed the provision because it took discretion away from local school boards. ”We weren’t happy because we’re a big local control outfit.”
The law also requires high schools to allow military recruiters the same campus access as administrators give to colleges and job recruiters. Some schools, including those in San Francisco and Portland, Ore., had refused military recruiters access to their campuses on the grounds that the Pentagon discriminated against gays and lesbians.
Education Secretary Rod Paige sent a letter last month to school administrators explaining the new regulations. Department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said the rationale for the rule was that the military ”felt this was needed to boost recruitment.”
Major Sandy Troeber, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said the rules were ”brought about by congressional support for military recruiting efforts.” The Selective Service already requires men in the United States to register for the draft within 30 days of their 18th birthday.
But a fact sheet provided by the Pentagon said that the cost of recruiting had doubled in the past decade and that ”access to students can significantly reduce the costs of recruiting.”
The Pentagon had been trying for years to insert the recruitment provisions into education legislation to counter what they saw as a lack of cooperation from some high schools, according to lobbyists and congressional aides. But this year the education bill was so loaded with other contentious issues, such as school vouchers, funding matters, and testing standards, that lawmakers who might have fought the new recruitment rules had their energies focused on other provisions.
”It wasn’t on anybody’s radar. It was buried so deep in the legislation,” said Kathleen Lyons, spokeswoman for the National Education Association. The group has only recently begun studying the issue and hasn’t yet taken a position on it, she said.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Democrat of Massachusetts and a major negotiator on the Leave No Child Behind Act, had fought successfully for several years to keep the military recruitment rules out of education bills, but couldn’t win the battle this year, especially since bigger education issues were dominating the debate, Hunter said. Senator Tim Hutchinson, Republican of Arkansas, engineered the inclusion of the new language, said a Kennedy staffer.
”All this provision does is provide military recruiters with the same access to directory information that colleges currently enjoy,” Kennedy said in a statement.
Civil libertarians are concerned about the rule nonetheless.
”We opposed it primarily on privacy grounds, that students or parents should be able to control access to directory information, such as names, addresses, ages,” said Christopher Anders, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. ”That information shouldn’t be sent out to military recruiters unless parents want it sent out.”
Under federal privacy laws, schools generally must have written permission from parents or students to release any information about a student’s education record, according to the Education Department. Exceptions include handing records over to a transfer school, to law enforcement in some cases, and to officials who need the information in cases of health or safety emergencies.
Schools may release what is called ”directory information,” such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and date and place of birth, but they must also give parents the option of refusing disclosure of their child’s information. Schools can decide on their own whether to provide the directory information to outside individuals or organizations.
The difference under the new rule is that schools will not have the discretion to refuse to provide such information to the military; they must provide the information to recruiters and allow them on campus at the Pentagon’s request.
Groups such as the American Friends Service Committee and the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, an antimilitary draft organization, have been fielding complaints about the new rules, but are not sure whether they can successfully challenge them, especially in the environment created by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Analysts are looking at whether the rules violate existing privacy law, said Oscar Castro, an AFSC official.
Jill Wynns, president of the San Francisco Board of Education, said the board’s attorneys are looking at the law to see whether the Bay Area school system can keep any part of its current written policy, which prohibits military recruiters from coming on campus and bars the release of any student information to military recruiters ”or anyone who asks for it.”
”We are very upfront about being biased in favor of higher education. We’re telling our kids, `go to college, go to college,”’ said Wynns, adding that schools do not allow businesses to recruit on campuses, either. The military has not yet asked for students’ contact information, but recruiters have demanded and recently been given access to San Francisco high schools for the first time in 12 years, she said.