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By David Goodman
Sharon Shea-Keneally, principal of Mount Anthony Union High School
in Bennington, Vermont, was shocked when she received a letter in
May from military recruiters demanding a list of all her students,
including names, addresses, and phone numbers. The school invites
recruiters to participate in career days and job fairs, but like
most school districts, it keeps student information strictly
confidential. "We don't give out a list of names of our kids to
anybody," says Shea-Keneally, "not to colleges, churches,
employers -- nobody."
But when Shea-Keneally insisted on an explanation, she was in for
an even bigger surprise: The recruiters cited the No Child Left
Behind Act, President Bush's sweeping new education law passed
earlier this year. There, buried deep within the law's 670 pages,
is a provision requiring public secondary schools to provide
military recruiters not only with access to facilities, but also
with contact information for every student -- or face a cutoff of
all federal aid.
"I was very surprised the requirement was attached to an
education law," says Shea-Keneally. "I did not see the link."
The military complained this year that up to 15 percent of the
nation's high schools are "problem schools" for recruiters. In
1999, the Pentagon says, recruiters were denied access to schools
on 19,228 occasions. Rep. David Vitter, a Republican from
Louisiana who sponsored the new recruitment requirement, says such
schools "demonstrated an anti-military attitude that I thought was
To many educators, however, requiring the release of personal
information intrudes on the rights of students. "We feel it is a
clear departure from the letter and the spirit of the current
student privacy laws," says Bruce Hunter, chief lobbyist for the
American Association of School Administrators. Until now, schools
could share student information only with other educational
institutions. "Now other people will want our lists," says Hunter.
"It's a slippery slope. I don't want student directories sent to
Verizon either, just because they claim that all kids need a cell
phone to be safe."
The new law does give students the right to withhold their
records. But school officials are given wide leeway in how to
implement the law, and some are simply handing over student
directories to recruiters without informing anyone -- leaving
students without any say in the matter.
"I think the privacy implications of this law are profound,"
says Jill Wynns, president of the San Francisco Board of
Education. "For the federal government to ignore or discount the
concerns of the privacy rights of millions of high school students
is not a good thing, and it's something we should be concerned
Educators point out that the armed services have exceeded their
recruitment goals for the past two years in a row, even without
access to every school. The new law, they say, undercuts the
authority of some local school districts, including San Francisco
and Portland, Oregon, that have barred recruiters from schools on
the grounds that the military discriminates against gays and
lesbians. Officials in both cities now say they will grant
recruiters access to their schools and to student information --
but they also plan to inform students of their right to withhold
Some students are already choosing that option. According to
Principal Shea-Keneally, 200 students at her school -- one-sixth
of the student body -- have asked that their records be withheld.
Recruiters are up-front about their plans to use school lists
to aggressively pursue students through mailings, phone calls, and
personal visits -- even if parents object. "The only thing that
will get us to stop contacting the family is if they call their
congressman," says Major Johannes Paraan, head U.S. Army recruiter
for Vermont and northeastern New York. "Or maybe if the kid died,
we'll take them off our list."