BUSD Approves, with Regret, Reversal of Military Recruiter Policy

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday June 22, 2007

Using language that expressed reluctance, the Berkeley Board of Education unanimously approved a policy reversal to release student information to the military for recruitment to be eligible for federal education grants. 

The third paragraph of the new policy reads: “Unfortunately, according to Federal law, military recruiters shall have access to a student’s name, address, and telephone number, unless the eleventh or twelfth grade student or parent/guardian has specified that the information not be released in accordance with law and administrative regulation.” 

“This is not a policy anyone is jumping up and down for,” said board president Joaquin Rivera. “We fought as hard as we could and in the end we were threatened to do it.” 

“Maybe we should put ‘unfortunately’ in front of the sentence,” said district superintendent Michele Lawrence, to which board members unanimously agreed. 

Berkeley High informed its juniors and seniors in May about a change in policy which requires them to sign an “opt out” form if they don’t want their information released to the U.S. military.  

Until now, students who wished to be contacted by military recruiters had to sign an “opt-in” form. 

According to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, 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 School was the last school in the country to adopt the “opt-out” policy after being threatened with losing millions of dollars in federal funds. 

“We were essentially blackmailed into doing this by saying that if you don’t release student information you will not have access to funds,” said board member Karen Hemphill. “It’s all right when students voluntarily join the army, but in this case we are being forced to make available information of students.” 


Solar project approved 

After debating the solar project at Washington Elementary School at the last three meetings, the school board voted unanimously to allow the district to enter into a legal agreement with Kyoto USA to carry out the design work for the proposed project. 

Estimated to cost $1.25 million, the HELiOS project—which proposes to put photovoltaic cells on the roof of Washington—is expected to cover 100 percent of the main building’s electricity needs. 

If the proposed plan works, Washington will become the first school in the district to turn solar. The board had asked Kyoto USA for a more comprehensive report on the financial aspects of the proposed project in its earlier meetings. 

Tom Kelly, director, Kyoto USA, said the organization had secured a 10-year financial municipal lease in the amount of $232,000 from Saulsbury Hill Financial to avoid bond funds. 

The Office of Public School Construction (OPSC) and PG&E are slated to contribute $750,000 and $305,000 for the project, respectively. 

Kelly told board members that additional funds could be requested from the city since it is now designated as a “Solar American City.” 

Berkeley won the U.S. Energy Department’s “Solar America City” competition this week which comes with a reward of $200,000 to help residences and other commercial properties turn solar. 

“If there’s an opportunity to get dollars from a source other than the Office of Public School Construction, then we should definitely jump on it,” said Lawrence.