Ain’t gonna study war?

Military recruiting at schools debated at CUSD

Draft not on tap:
When asked about a recent proposal to reinstate the military draft, Army recruiter Sgt. First Class Gregory S. McNeill said, “I don’t believe there will ever be a draft again. A soldier committed to being there is worth 10 who don’t want to be there.”

Teens today don’t have to go down to a recruitment office to join the military. The military will come right to their schools. To many parents, that’s a problem.

The CUSD has long opened its student directory information—names, addresses, phone numbers and class status, for example—to recruiters, along with colleges and potential employers. But recently, President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” act tied the practice to federal funding.

If the CUSD were to stop giving out the information, said Assistant Superintendent Kelly Mauch at a Jan. 15 school board meeting, it would stand to lose $4.7 million.

Jim Brobeck, who has been calling attention to the practice, was disturbed by a recruiter who showed up at his family’s doorstep when his son was a junior at Pleasant Valley High School. He’d rather see his boy go to college, and attempts by the government to sway him from that goal are nothing more than “exploitation,” he said. The same goes for corporations looking to hire graduates. “This is a violation of their privacy rights.”

Where the military sees a chance to increase its ranks and offer options to graduating seniors, some parents see their children dying on a battlefield.

Sgt. First Class Gregory S. McNeill, interviewed at Chico’s Army recruiting office, said Butte and Glenn County high schools have long been fertile ground for military recruiting. Because many educators in the area are supportive of the military, McNeil said, he did not foresee that any real change would be brought about by the new legislation.

“Sure it helps,” McNeil said. “[But] we get the [student enrollment] list from almost every school anyway. We have teachers who invite us into their classrooms.”

McNeil, a firm believer that military service is a positive experience for most recruits, said the army targets teen students who are entering their senior year, as that is the age when many will decide what they want to do with their lives. About three-quarters of the time, new recruits were contacted by the Army, McNeil said, while the other 25 percent initiate their own entry.

Several former military men, including members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion, came to the school board meeting to say that the sacrifices of soldiers are what afford Americans the freedom even to engage in such a debate.

Veteran Ole Quiberg said it’s important that young people know they can choose the military if that’s what they believe is best for them and the nation. “If we lived in a utopian world and had no need for the military, it would be wonderful,” he said. “We don’t have the draft. We have to rely on volunteers.

“No one is dragging a child off, screaming, into the military,” he said, mentioning the programs that direct enlisted people into safer, educating military paths.

Larry Wahl, who said he came to speak as a veteran, not in his role as a Chico city councilmember, said, “I am amazed that we would even consider changing the access of recruiters to the high schools.

“We are at war,” Wahl said, and the country needs high-school students to join the military. “Anything we can do [to help] bring the best and brightest into the United States military is what we need to do.”

But some of the nearly a dozen people who spoke said recruiters sometimes mislead young people about the types of opportunities available to them. Emily Alma mentioned a student she knew who agreed to join the military, changed her mind, and was met with disturbing pressure by the recruiter. “Minors are vulnerable,” Alma said.

Parents can direct the schools not to release personal information, but some who spoke at the Jan. 15 meeting said the form that’s sent home with the Parents Rights and Responsibilities Handbook doesn’t state strongly enough what the parents are signing away.

Andrea Rolde, whose son is a freshman at Chico High School, told the board she didn’t remember even receiving the form—a concern echoed by some of the people who spoke.

Brobeck urged trustees to adopt an opt-in, rather than opt-out, system, wherein parents and students would have to say it’s OK to release information. And they should be able to say so anytime, not just at the beginning of the school year. “I want my kid’s name out now.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has offered to help local school districts protect students’ privacy by pointing out that, under the federal mandate, the student must also have the opportunity to decline to have his or her information released.

Rick Anderson, president of the CUSD Board of Trustees, said the board could possibly take up a policy discussion on the matter at a later date.

So far this school year, Mauch said, branches of the military have asked for information about Chico High students but have yet to request the same of PV. Recruiters have been at the Chico High campus, during lunch hours, 14 times this year.