No information, please

Chico High School senior Miles Braten, 17, has heard of military recruiters, armed with numbers given to them by the Chico Unified School District, calling his fellow students at home when their parents aren’t around and giving them the hard sell on life in the Armed Forces. He even knows of one mom who cried at the dinner table upon learning that her son had signed up without her knowledge.

“Since Sept. 11, our rights have really been infringed upon by things such as the Patriot Act,” Braten said in an interview the day after addressing district trustees June 18. “The military recruiters on campus go around and talk about how the military will give you money, and it’s misleading.” Some students are sophisticated enough to make such a choice, he said, but others fell pressured and don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.

And it’s not just information given to the military that concerns Braten; it’s the idea that students’ privacy rights could be violated with the release of their names, phone numbers and addresses to corporations, law enforcement, the news media and others.

The CUSD has always complied with information requests from colleges and the military, but President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act ties federal funding to the mandatory release of student directory information. Recently, students in Santa Cruz convinced the school board to resist the military provision of the act and release only the information of students who “opt in.” In March, delegates to the California Federation of Teachers passed a similar resolution.

The new version of the Parents’ Rights and Responsibilities Handbook takes advantage of what discretion the district does have.

“It was very vague,” said Assistant Superintendent Kelly Mauch, and now the parent notification form is “very clear and very specific. You can’t miss it.” The most private of families can keep their student’s name out of the yearbook, off sports programs and away from reunion committees.

The CUSD decided to revise the booklet and form after hearing complaints from students and other community members who believed parents overlooked the implications of the form mailed home at the beginning of each school year. Also, it’s now made clear that under the act that students of any age can themselves forbid the release of information to the military.

"It seems much clearer," agreed Braten, satisfied with the revisions, which included a student-suggested check-the-box-style list of options.