Kelly Mendoza, a mom with two kids in high school, has no problem with military recruiters who come onto campus at lunchtime to talk with kids who might want to join the armed forces.
But a new federal law requiring schools to give military recruiters the names, addresses and phone numbers of students has her worried.
Her main misgiving: the law makes it easier for recruiters to go to students, rather than have students come to them.
“Kids are too young in high school to be solicited over the phone,” said Mendoza, an Oxnard resident. “The military is a tough choice now; we could go to war any day. We have to protect our country, but it’s hard to think about your child going to war.”
The new requirement, part of the No Child Left Behind Act passed in January, allows parents and students to request that schools not release personal information. But even with that provision, the law has some school officials uneasy about privacy issues.
“As an administrator, I’m uncomfortable with giving out students’ phone numbers,” said Cliff Moore, principal of Oak Park High School. “When something’s mailed, kids have the opportunity to just throw it in the trash. But with a phone call, (recruiters) have a little more leverage.”
Still, school officials throughout Ventura County say they intend to comply with the requirement, telling parents about it by letter in the next few weeks or in handbooks sent home at the start of the school year.
Officials who don’t comply stand to lose federal money, which in some Ventura County school districts, such as Oxnard Union High, amounts to $2 million a year. The law also applies to private schools that receive federal funds.
In addition to privacy concerns, the new law raises questions of just what information schools release and to whom.
Up to now, some school districts, including Las Virgenes Unified and Santa Paula Union High, released basic information on students to military and college recruiters only if parents gave them written permission.
Many others, though, including Fillmore, Oak Park and Oxnard Union, already give recruiters some students’ names and addresses, unless parents sign forms saying they don’t want that information released.
The key, officials said, is that recruiters, whether they’re universities, employers or the armed forces, get the same access.
“If you let the UCLA recruiter in, you have to let the military recruiter in, too,” said Donald Zimring, deputy superintendent for Las Virgenes.
Military recruiters argue the new law means students will become aware of options they might not otherwise have considered.
“This will open a lot of kids’ eyes,” said Gunnery Sgt. Milton Andrews, a Marine recruiter in Simi Valley. “A lot of kids come in and they don’t join. But at least they’ve looked at the option.”
And while students may find calls from recruiters annoying, most are perfectly capable of figuring out whether the military is right for them, said Matt Lee, a junior at Newbury Park High School.
“I’m not too concerned about this being used to brainwash students who wouldn’t otherwise want to join,” Lee said. “It’s a good way to spread information. If students really don’t want to join the military, then that’s their right.”
Still, local educators and parents aren’t the only ones with privacy concerns.
Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to school superintendents across the state, advising them to make it as easy as possible for parents to keep student information from being released.
The letter reads in part: “(The law) subjects students and their families to unwanted release of personal information to outside entities as a condition of exercising the right — and obligation — to attend school. These concerns are magnified when the recipient of the information is the military.”
Citing similar concerns about privacy, the Conejo Valley Unified School District is taking the opt-out option allowed under the law and flipping it.
That means that Conejo Valley parents must sign a form specifically requesting the district to provide information about their children to military recruiters. If parents don’t return the form, the district assumes they don’t want their child’s phone number, and so forth, released.
Conejo officials will still not provide student information to college and business recruiters, again citing privacy concerns.
The district sent 3,000 letters to parents of juniors and seniors last month , informing them of the new requirement and asking them to return a short form if they want information released to the military. So far, it has received about 50 responses.
“We are not taking any kind of pro or con stand on military recruiting,” said Assistant Superintendent Richard Simpson. “We want students to have access to that information, but we want that access to be because they’re interested in it.”