The parents of high school students have long checklists of back-to-school tasks: attend back-to-school nights, buy supplies, arrange for safe transportation, establish rules for the school year.
Add this one: make a decision about the availability of your child’s contact information to military recruiters.
Section 9528 of the more than 600-page No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 required that public and private secondary schools receiving funding under the act release student names, addresses, and telephone numbers to military recruiters unless parents specifically opt out of the release.
It’s up to school systems to decide how, when and even whether to give parents the opportunity to exclude their children from the military lists.
Montgomery County Public Schools has tied the military opt out option to the Request to Withhold Directory Information, a form sent to all parents. The form lets parents withhold all or part of their student’s information from school directories, and, as of this year, contains a check-box with the text “Please do not release any directory information to military recruiters.”
The 2005-06 form is due Sept. 15. It should be returned to directly to the student’s school.
The new box was introduced “in response to community interest,” said Kate Harrison, an Montgomery County schools spokeswoman.
Before this school year, no specific mechanism was in place to withhold student records from the military, though Harrison pointed to the “Other” box on the form, which parents could tick and then write in their request.
THE ADDITION OF the opt out box was largely a result of lobbying by Pat Elder, a Walt Whitman High School parent, and his organization, Montgomery Coalition on Recruiting Issues.
The group has met several times, each meeting drawing 20-25 parents.
“They were very rational and pleasant,” Elder said of the county school officials he dealt with. “We were happy about that. But overall, the county has not been doing a very good job in adhering to Section 9528."
Specifically, Elder said that even students younger than 18 are permitted to opt out, themselves, under the law. Jurisdictions nationwide, including Fairfax, Va. have allowed minors to opt out without a parent's signature.
"The county refuses to see that,” Elder said.
The county should allow students to opt out once and have the decision remain on record until it is changed, he said. Currently, students and parents have to submit a new opt out form every year.
Elder questioned whether opting out from military recruiting should be tied in to another form, where it is easily missed.
Elder's own daughter, a ninth-grader at Whitman, came home with the directory information form the same day the directory was published.
"It was on the seventh page out of a 10 page packet, all stapled together was the opt-out form, with no explanation on top of it whatsoever," Elder said.
His group has drafted a list of 23 proposals, all of them previously implemented in other jurisdictions, that address those issues and clarify the recruiting opt out process.
PARENT RESPONSES to the military recruiting policies have ranged from anger to bewilderment.
“We talked about it one time [in a PTA meeting] because one of the recruiters actually came to the child’s door,” said Diane Ables, Thomas Wootton High School PTA president. “They have called me because my daughter graduated in 2005.”
Ables said that at Wootton, military recruitment hasn’t been a hot button issue, but that parents should have the opportunity to withhold their children’s information. And Ables — a PTA president — said she wasn’t sure how to do that.
“I’ve never seen that form, she said. “Personally I’m not aware of it.”
"That's very telling," Elder said, emphasizing that the opt-out form is distributed at different times and in different ways at each school. His group’s proposals call for greater uniformity and more time for parents to submit forms.
“It does go out to the parents in several forms. And I think the parents are aware of it at some levels,” said Dr. Michael Doran, Wootton’s principal. Doran said he recognized some of the controversial issues surrounding military recruiters’ presence in school, but that beyond making parents aware of their options, the school is obligated to comply with the law, he said.
“Do we, don’t we, should we, shouldn’t we? … It’s out of our hands,” he said. “Our kids are not harassed or anything inappropriate. Then that would draw attention and then we would step in in a different way.”
“As long as the schools comply with what they have to do, I think it’s really a parent education measure,” said Rosanne Hurwitz, a Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations area vice president who noted that a Tilden Middle School mailing list was unwittingly released last year. “I do disclosure law, so I’m not that bent out of shape about it. You think you have more privacy than you really do. … As much as we try to protect and know who we’re giving our information to — it’s out there.”
Even when parents do withhold their student’s directory information from the military, recruiters are allowed to set up recruitment tables in the schools on a regular basis.
Harrison said that in such cases the military is “considered to be an opportunity like any other opportunity, like a college or anything else.”
"ALTHOUGH I wasn't in Congress when No Child Left Behind was signed into law, I believe parents should have the right to decide who is entitled to receive their children's directory information,” U.S. Rep Chris Van Hollen said in a written statement. “For that reason, I support MCPS' decision to give parents a choice as to whether they want the military to have access to their children's directory information."
Parents now have that choice, but Van Hollen has not taken a position on legislation that would alter the No Child Left Behind provision.
In February, U.S. Rep Mike Honda (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that would have changed the opt-out policy to an opt-in policy, giving parents the means and opportunity to make their children’s information available. The bill had 62 co-sponsors, but has not made it out of committee.