Military recruiters have eye on students

December 22, 2005|By JOHN SCHNEIDER

By now, most parents of school-age children have heard of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, adopted in January 2002 to provide guidance and money to America's schools.

What many are still not aware of is a provision buried deep in the body of the law that allows military recruiters to obtain student information, including names, addresses and telephone listings. Schools receiving federal education funds have no choice but to comply with these requests, upon pain of losing their funding.

Recruiters then may directly contact students, boys and girls, without the knowledge or permission of their parents.

News reports this year demonstrated the lengths to which some recruiters have gone in an attempt to fill their lagging quotas. Problems became so egregious that the Army held a one-day recruiting moratorium last spring to address "misconduct by recruiters." Regardless of one's position on the Iraq war, few parents would feel that they do not belong in all relevant discussions of their child's welfare and future.

But there is an additional troubling development for students: In a media roundtable June 23, the Pentagon acknowledged that it had created a database containing information on millions of high school and college students ages 16 to 25.

The information includes names, dates of birth, genders, addresses, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, ethnicity, telephone numbers, grade point averages and more. This database was created without the requisite announcement and public comment period required by the 1974 Privacy Act.

The information comes from many sources, including the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery tests that military recruiters are administering on high school campuses. The uses to which the information can be put, without prior knowledge or consent, are disturbing.

Under Section 32 of the Federal Code of Regulations and under the guise of "national security purposes," the Pentagon can give information in the database to foreign law enforcement, state and local taxing authorities, the Justice Department and other government agencies.

For parents like myself, the worst part is that Maryland school boards largely are doing little to shine a light on the situation.

For example, NCLB allows a parent or student to have the personal information removed from any military requests received by their school. This right is referred to as an "opt-out" and requires that a form be completed and sent to the student's school or the county school board.

But when I called my sons' high school to find out more, I was passed around among several staff members before being told that someone would get back to me. That someone was the principal, who told me that an explanation and opt-out form appear in the back-to-school materials each year. When I checked, I found this was not the case.

Curious about whether this was happening at other high schools, a group of friends called each high school in Anne Arundel County to determine its position on parental notification and the opt-out provision.

We were shocked at what we learned. Many of our county's high schools were largely ignorant of this aspect of NCLB, and no uniform policies were in place to alert parents to the opt-out or to handle opt-out requests when received. It may be that these requests are not even being fulfilled by some high schools.

We presented our concerns to the school board during its June meeting. We followed up at the September meeting with additional testimony, more parents and a formal resolution recommending better notification of opt-out rights, more-uniform procedures at all of the high schools and measures to ensure that opt-outs are properly recorded.

The board invited us to participate in policy committee discussions, where we are creating policy directives intended to better protect student privacy.

We are not alone. Acting independently, parents in Howard, Montgomery and Baltimore counties also have launched initiatives to address the loopholes in their school policies.

Parents have a right to know and an obligation to find out.

John Schneider is a parent of two boys attending public high school in Anne Arundel County. His e-mail is aivset@yahoo.com.

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