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Hancock Bill Slows Military Recruiters

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday April 25, 2006

A Berkeley assemblymember’s bill scheduled for debate this week in the assembly Education Committee would not end military recruitment on California’s high school campuses, but it would make it easier for parents to exempt their children from the recruitment process. 

Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Sally Lieber (D-San Jose) jointly introduced the bill, AB 1778, which would require that high schools include an “opt out” military recruiter checkout box on the emergency information contact forms filled out every year by the state’s students and parents. 

The bill was co-authored by Oakland Assemblymember Wilma Chan. The bill would tighten up and clarify the military recruitment “opt out” notification procedures to parents and students that are required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. 

The Hancock-Lieber bill has been labeled the “Student and Family Protection Act of 2006.” 

Under NCLB, schools receiving federal funds are required to provide student contact information to military recruiters unless the individual student or the student’s parents notify the school that they do not want the information to go to the recruiters. 

That is the so-called “opt out” provision of the law. 

A representative in Lieber’s office said that bill would also assist California school districts in both avoiding litigation and complying with NCLB. 

“Not only are parents and students often not aware that their private contact information may be released by their school, school districts themselves risk litigation if they do not provide adequate notice to parents of their right to opt out of the release of this information,” Lieber staffmember Cory Jasperson wrote earlier this year in a fact sheet to Assembly Education Committee members. 

“In fact,” Jasperson added, “earlier this year the Albuquerque Public Schools settled a lawsuit over this issue after being sued by the ACLU for sending students’ contact information directly to military recruiters without properly notifying parents of their right under NCLB to opt out of such information sharing.” 

In support of the Hancock-Lieber bill, Northern California-based Mainstreet Moms says on its website that “with a $1 billion Army advertising budget and an overall $4 billion recruiting budget at work, kids choosing whether or not to enlist face some of the most sophisticated marketing tactics and shrewdest messaging money can buy. Who has their personal information, and how that information is used, should be left up to the students and their families to decide.” 

The organization says that the Hancock-Lieber bill “makes it easy for families to make that decision” and adds that “it’s clear that when students and families are made aware of their rights, they take action.” 

A small number of school districts, including Berkeley Unified, have adopted a more liberal “opt in” policy which allows the school district to withhold student contact information from military recruiters unless the student or their parent turns in a form authorizing the release of that information. NCLB specifically bans the “opt in” practice. 

South Bay Congressmember Mike Honda (D-San Jose) has introduced legislation in Congress that would make the “opt in” procedure legal, but that legislation has been stalled in committee since last spring. 

While indicating that she supports “the aims” of Honda’s “opt in” bill, Lieber said by telephone that changing federal law was a “slow process,” and her emergency form opt out state legislation is an interim step to reduce military recruitment on school campuses. 

That would make a difference in such districts as the Mountain View-Los Altos Unified School District, for example, she said, where the opt-out provision appears on page 53 of the student handbook. 

“My hats are off to the parents and students who make it through the first 52 pages,” Lieber said. 

Saying that the bill is getting “a lot of support from local school districts,” Lieber added that “I think this is going to get support from a lot of unexpected quarters as well. At one PTA meeting in my district, I met a woman who was a career military official. She said that even she was offended that she could not get military recruiters to leave her school-age son alone.”  

Lieber said that in some studies she’s seen where school districts have used the opt-out checkout box on emergency contact information forms, “the choice of opting out from military recruitment has jumped from 8 to 12 percent to more than 80 percent” of parents and students in a school. 

A spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which is supporting the bill, said that while the ACLU-NC would prefer to either include an “opt in” provision” or to “get rid of military recruitment out of the schools altogether,” the Hancock-Lieber bill would “at least make the opt out provision as accessible as possible.” 

Opposition to the bill has not yet jelled. Only one organization, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of California, have come out in opposition, and the Republican Caucus of the state legislature has not yet taken a formal position. 

The bill has been “double referred” to committee, meaning that if it survives the Education Committee vote scheduled for Wednesday, it must go next to the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee before it reaches the floor of the Assembly. 

The last day for the Assembly to pass its own bills this year is June 2, with an Aug. 31 deadline for the Senate to approve bills that have made it through the Assembly.