Most parents silent on recruiting
Many are unaware of provision that lets military contact high school kids
Seven years after the Portland school board banned military recruiting in high schools, the city's high school students are coming home to a slew of shiny brochures and urgent phone messages Ñ from military recruiters.
How did the recruiters get the students' addresses and phone numbers? The Portland school district gave them the information.
The school system that became known nationwide for its ban on military recruiting is now complying with a little-known provision in a new federal education law that requires school districts to give military recruiters contact information about students unless the students' parents object in writing.
The tiny provision in the 671-page education law, signed by President Bush last year, took effect last fall. Unlike the frequent debates about the district's recruiting ban, which the school board voted to ease slightly last year, this issue hasn't attracted much attention Ñ in Portland or nationwide.
'I've not heard from more than one or two parents,' said Portland school board member Marc Abrams, a supporter of the former military recruiting ban.
Military recruiters say the new law gives them access to student information equal to what colleges and businesses have received from schools for years.
The law 'does make it easier to (reach) more children, but the kids always have the right to say no,' said Fred Pugh, director of education services for the Army recruiting battalion in Portland.
Pugh estimated that about 25 percent of families nationwide, and in Portland, have given their school districts written notice that they want the student contact information withheld.
Recruiting is going 'very well,' Pugh said. 'For the last three months, we've done exceptionally well.'
But he said it's impossible to tell how much of that relates to the changed law and how much relates to Oregon's economy, to the prospect of war or to other factors.
Some Portland students and parents who don't like the provision or how the Portland district has dealt with it suggest that board members haven't heard more complaints because most parents and students don't know that district officials are releasing the information.
'I think it's ridiculous,' Franklin High School junior Alex Diamond, also an antiwar activist, said of the student contact provision. 'I think it happens now that we're gearing up for war.'
'I think kids are much more keen to it because of the situation, and are much more sensitive,' said Nancy Newell, the mother of a Grant High School senior. 'It can be life-changing decisions they can make at this age.'
Colleges, military have access
Newell criticized how the Portland district allowed parents to object to the student information release.
The student registration form parents completed in the fall included 'yes' and 'no' boxes where parents could allow or object to student contact information being released to colleges and the military. It included no choices that separated colleges from the military.
'The way the form was, you would either have to take both or nothing,' Newell said. 'So I just wrote on it and said yes to one (colleges) and no to the other.'
Newell said district officials could not tell her later whether her daughter's information had been released. Newell's daughter, Nancy D'Inzillo, said she has received one phone call and several promotional mailings from military branches this year.
'The idea that my record would be accessible to the military and that they would want to recruit me is just repugnant,' said D'Inzillo, who has protested the prospect of war with Iraq. 'I just don't think they should automatically have access Ñ just because you want schools to have it.'
The cost of noncompliance
Jollee Patterson, legal counsel for the Portland school district, said the district plans to change the registration form next year to allow parents to make separate decisions on information releases to colleges and the military. She said the district linked colleges and the military on the registration form this year because that followed the language of the law.
Until recent weeks, she said, district officials had been treating forms with no check marks as if the parents did not want the student's information released to the military or colleges.
But that changed, Patterson said, after the district and other districts nationwide received a letter and materials from the federal Education and Defense departments saying student information should be given unless parents 'opt out.'
So, district officials now are releasing student information unless the parents checked 'no' on the form.
'Unless parents tell us, 'No, you can't release the information,' we have to do it,' Patterson said.
Districts that do not comply with the law could lose their federal funds Ñ about $40 million in Portland's case.
Patterson said officials included a note on the registration form indicating that checking 'no' would not preclude colleges from getting student contact information, since most colleges get that information from SATs and similar tests.
But Patterson said the recent federal guidance doesn't say colleges and military can't be separated on the form, 'so we're going to do that.'
Chris Andreae, a mother of junior and senior boys at Lincoln High School and a critic of the student contact provision, said she thinks the choices should be separated. She also wondered, however, whether the military would want to recruit her older son, Max, in any case.
'He would do more harm than good,' she said.
'In a way, it would be poetic justice. He's incapable of following orders.'