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BHS to Give Student Data To Military Recruiters

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday May 25, 2007

Berkeley High School administrators informed students this week about a change in board policy that requires all juniors and seniors who do not want their names and addresses released to the U.S. military for recruitment purposes to sign an “opt-out” form. 

Prior to this, Berkeley High had simply handed over names and addresses of students who had “opted in” or wanted to receive information from recruiters. 

But under threat of losing millions of dollars in federal funds, the Berkeley school board decided earlier this month on the change. 

According to the federal No Child Left Behind act (NCLB), school districts must provide the military with the names and addresses of all juniors and seniors for recruiting purposes unless there is a signed letter from the parents or the student indicating that they are “opting out” and do not want information released. 

Berkeley High was the last high school in the country to acquiesce to this policy.  

Since the inception of this law in 2002, the Berkeley school board had taken the position that the district would not disclose names or addresses of students to any group including PTA, booster groups, colleges and the military, unless they received written permission to do so, that is “opting in.” 

The district’s belief had been that by applying the same restrictions of access to student information to all organizations, it would be able to guard privacy and shield students from unwanted solicitations as well as military recruitment, unless desired. 

School district superintendent Michele Lawrence said she had sent out a letter to the Berkeley High community on May 11 about this change. 

“Over the past few years, when only a handful of students have signed releases, I have been visited by recruiting officers from several branches of the service seeking all student names and indicating our policy was illegal,” her letter stated. “Progressively, my visits from military representatives came from higher ranks. They were all respectful but still insistent. Although we have made attempts, through our legislators, to get this provision of NCLB changed, it is highly political, and that process will take some time.” 

Lawrence said that the school board had held its position all along because of their commitment to protecting students from “some of the obvious ramifications of an open release of information, and especially to the military given our country’s political climate.” 

The situation escalated when the undersecretary of defense called to inform her that BHS was the only school in the nation not to comply with this particular provision. 

“So,” Lawrence’s letter explained, “the earlier threats of losing a few million dollars of federal funds seem closer at hand. Added to this, the federal government passes the responsibility for our compliance to the state; these officials have also called and indicated our position is illegal. So, in order to safeguard your student’s information, we will need to take another approach; one more cumbersome and perhaps not as tightly implemented.” 

Lawrence expressed regret about the change in procedure but said that the district couldn’t risk losing millions in federal funds. 

Eleventh and twelveth graders were handed “opt-out” forms during assembly Monday, which they had to sign if they didn’t want any information from the military. 

“We are currently in the process of alphabetizing these pieces of paper,” said Janet Huseby, a volunteer coordinator and former BHS parent. 

“We will then do a master list of all the juniors and seniors who did not fill out this form,” she said. “We will do our best to deliver a form to those who were absent. Hopefully we will be able to carry out a 100 percent survey. It is important that families pay attention to the new process since we are now being forced to give out information of any student who does not have a signed denial form.” 

Huseby said that in the past only a handful of people had signed the “opt-in” forms.  

“It’s a big change and, no, it’s not,” she said. “I could bet that people who would be willing to hear from the military would be slightly more. Earlier you had to request it. If you didn’t do anything you were opted out. So now, the burden is to say ‘no’ as opposed to saying ‘yes.’” 

Huseby said that although exact figures wouldn’t be available till the end of the week, it was safe to say that 90 percent or more students had opted out. 

Susan Lawrence, whose son, a BHS senior, had opted out on Monday, said that schools should not be used for marketing the military to students. 

“While to a lesser degree than many of the possibilities in the Patriot Act, it is also another version of the disregard for personal privacy that this administration has shown,” she wrote in an email to the Planet Thursday. “I would like BHS to return to an opt-in program.” 

Lawrence pointed out that the military already had access to student information through those who took College Board exams such as the SATs, on which students indicate by checking a box whether or not they want to receive information from the military or not. 

“This opt-out is aimed to reach the socio-edu-economic class who doesn’t as often take those exams and who traditionally fills military ranks,” she said. 

“My understanding is that the military branches can already have presentation days in the College Career Center for interested students such as the various colleges do, so students can choose to hear that information and get more if they want.”  

The military can also access student information when they register for the Selective Services. 

“18-year-old males are required by law to sign up for Selective Service,” said Huseby. “Once they do that, the army has all the personal information it needs to make any recruiting calls it wants. That’s what this whole thing is about—recruiting. Because there is no draft, the army must convince young men and women to join the army. With the unpopularity of the war they have had an increasingly difficult time recruiting soldiers. As a result their recruiting tactics have become more aggressive.” 

Rio Bauce, a junior who chairs the city’s Youth Commission (and who contributes to the Daily Planet as a freelance writer) said he had opted out. 

“Most people I know did,” he said during lunch break Wednesday. “I don’t want to join the military. A lot of the money our country is losing is money that is being put in the military to murder innocent Iraqis.” 

Bauce said he had received a brochure from the military last Tuesday. “I was pretty surprised,” he said. “It promised up to $40,000 in college funds if you signed up for reserves or joined the military. However, I think that changing the policy was the right thing to do since it is important that we abide by the law.” 

However, there were others in the Berkeley Unified community who said they were disappointed by the policy change. 

“We have fought the battle and lost,” Berkeley High principal Jim Slemp said. “It’s our responsibility now to explain the law to our students and make sure they understand their rights.” 

School Board Vice President John Selawsky, who had researched the “opt-in” policy before its implementation in late 2002, said the policy change had been decided in a closed session because it involved possible litigation. 

“A military provision such as this has no place in an education bill such as NCLB,” he said. “Many districts started with the ‘opt-in’ as a policy but changed to ‘opt-out’ when they started getting letters from the federal government saying they were not in compliance with the NCLB. I spoke with organizations such as the ACLU who said that we had a legal argument but that it was weak. I am still researching this from a legal point of view to see if we can challenge this particular provision in the NCLB.”