As recruitment falls short of its goals, the US military has stepped up its efforts to enlist young people. And recruiters have more access to high-school students than some parents may realize. The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts to give recruiters personal information about students --- including their address, telephone number, and academic achievement --- unless parents object.
The Rochester school district notifies parents about the requirement and their right to have the information withheld. But that notification is provided in only two places: in the "Calendar and Directory of Information" that the district sends to families each year, and in the web version of that calendar and directory. And the information is vaguely phrased; the word "military" isn't mentioned.
At a School Board meeting in May, about a dozen students and parents urged the district to change its policy on recruiters. And on Thursday, July 14, the School Board's policy committee will review the way the district deals with recruiters.
The meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. at the district's Central Office building, 131 West Broad Street.
Some school districts in the US, including Fairport's, have defied the requirement and have adopted an "opt-in" policy. They ask parents to confirm in writing that they want their child's student records to be released to military recruiters. But that jeopardizes their federal funding, and the Rochester school district is more dependent on federal funds than Fairport.
Rochester School Board member Willa Powell, one of three members of the board's policy committee, says she'll ask the committee to consider an opt-in policy similar to Fairport's. "If we can't go to that," she said last week, "then I will ask that a form be attached to the form parents use to complete emergency-contact data. It will be more visible to parents there, and it will clarify for the district what they want us to do."
Powell says she understands that Fairport's opt-in decision is in clear violation of the No Child Left Behind Act, and, she notes, Fairport can better afford to lose federal funds than Rochester can. "It's part of the abuse," she said. "Only school districts that can afford to reject their money can stand up for themselves and create their own policies."
Parent Brian Erway, who addressed the board in May, called the district's current policy "very soft, very passive." "It doesn't specifically reference military recruiters as one of the agencies receiving information on students," he said. "That omission compromises full disclosure."
"I wasn't here in 2001 when the NCLB documents were reviewed," said Powell, "but at the time, public schools all across the country feared having the government pull the rug out from under them. Now that we have a very unpopular war, people are getting concerned. Recruiters are concerned, too, and I understand that. But I am more concerned for our students."
At least two of the three policy-committee members will have to agree on a new policy before it can be sent to the full board. In addition to Powell, the members are Rob Brown and Domingo Garcia. "I've heard all the comments that people have made," says Brown, "and I'm open to discussion as long as we don't do anything that puts the $60 million we receive from the federal government at risk."
Garcia says his concern is making sure that a new policy doesn't confuse parents. "If they decide to opt out, we need to make sure that we know exactly what they want to opt out from."
The district notifies parents about the military's right to get personal information about their children --- and parents' right to withhold that information --- in its "Calendar and Directory of Information." This year, the notification was on page 14 of the 44-page booklet. Here's the wording:
"Occasionally, the District gets requests for such information pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law by parent or student associations, social service, or community groups, or providers of educational, training, employment opportunities, and recruiters. Sometimes the news media seek information, especially about students, including athletes, who have won awards or attained notable achievements. Parents and eligible students have the right to tell the District that any or all of such information should not be released without prior consent...."