Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News, August 14, 2005
by Susan Ives
I don’t have children, but I go all mushy when it comes to the first day of school ritual. Kids with their new clothes, new shoes (a bit big in the toe — they’re growing), new backpacks packed with new pencils, newly sharpened, going to a new classroom with a new teacher to learn new things. I loved it when I was a child myself, and I love it still. In the afternoon those packs will be heavy with books and, I’m told, with about five zillion pieces of paper for parents to read and sign. Even grownups get homework on the first day of school land it pays for them to complete it carefully and check it twice. If there is a high school student in the house, one of those papers should be a consent form, giving or withholding permission for the school to give the student’s name, address and phone number to military recruiters.
Section 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in January, 2002, states that any educational agency receiving assistance under this act (virtually every public school and many private ones) must provide the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of high school students if a military recruiter asks for them. Before passage of this act about one-third of the nation’s 22,000 high schools refused recruiters’ requests for students’ names or access to campus.
The Act goes on to say that a secondary school student or the parent of the student may request that the information not be released without prior written parental consent and the local educational agency or private school must notify parents of the option to make a request and must comply with any request.
If that paragraph sounds confusing, it is. The rights of parents and their children are muddled. Either students or their parents may make the request that the data not be released but only parents appear to have the right to be notified of this option or to make an exception.
One thing is clear, though: high schools must inform parents of their right to have their child’s names, address and phone number withheld from military recruiters.
Many of the parents of teens that I know are adamantly opposed to having military recruiters contact their 16-year-olds. If that sounds like you, here’s what you can do.
First, rummage through that stack of paperwork and make sure that the consent form is provided. If it is, make sure you sign it and that it gets turned in. If it’s not, make a stink: it’s the law. If no form is provided, make up your own. It can say something like:
“Dear high school principal: We are exercising our right under the Section 9528(a) of the No Child Left Behind Act, Public Law 107-110, and hereby request that the name, address and telephone listing of (student’s name) who is currently a student at your school not be released to military recruiters without prior parental written consent.”
A parent and/or a student should sign and date it. Deliver it to the school early in the year.
This is not to say that recruiters will not get a student’s name, address and phone number from other sources.
According to a notice in the May 23 Federal Register, military recruiters now have access to nation-wide database of information on nearly 12 million students between the ages of 16 and 18 and all college students, culled from commercial sources, such as class ring vendors and testing services and from some government sources, such as driver’s licenses and student loan databases. In addition to each student’s date of birth, gender and address it includes, when available, the student’s ethnicity, e-mail address, grade point average and course of study.
Privacy advocates claim the database circumvents laws that restrict the government’s right to collect or hold citizen information by contracting with a private firm to do the work, and I agree.
In some areas, recruiters starting asking for records before parents and students even had a chance to opt out. In Fairfax, Virginia, the Connection newspapers reported, recruiters started asking for lists in May.
Some high school students are eager to join the military: good for them. Some don’t want to be harassed by a recruiter with high pressure telemarketing pitches. Good for them, too. There’s a choice, part of the new back to school ritual.