Up against the wall
Army uses chicanery to get student info
Susan Sullivan says the U.S. Army tried to pull a fast one on Chico High students last week when it erected a rock climbing wall on campus and then asked those who wanted to participate to sign a waiver and hand over a little personal information.
The school administration agrees—the Army was in the wrong and deceptive about its motives.
Sullivan, whose son Sean is a 17-year-old high school senior, knew that the recruiters would be on campus, Thursday, Oct. 27 as part of the anti-drug Red Ribbon Week activities. Last May, she said, Marine recruiters were on campus for Career Day using an inflatable fun house to attract student information. Under President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, the school must provide the military with student information or risk losing federal funding. That is, unless the parent has signed an opt-out form, which the school must provide.
Sullivan, who has signed the opt-out form, said she spoke to Principal Jim Hanlon last May and he agreed the military did not have the right to gather the information they were after by asking students to sign a “waiver.”
This time around, Sullivan, a single mom with one child, was ready to take on the Army. She went to campus at about noon and saw the wall, an information booth and a line of students wanting to climb the wall. She said she told the next student in line that he didn’t have to sign the form before he could climb on the wall.
Along with a release of responsibility, the form asks for full name, address, birthday, e-mail address, last four digits of the student’s social security number, citizenship status and ethnic background.
“The military guy said something to the effect that, ‘Oh no, it’s OK, we need that information and if you want to practice free speech you’ll have stand over there,'” Sullivan says.
She and the recruiter went back and forth on the legalities. At one point, the school’s intervention specialist, who had brought the Army to campus, came up and told Sullivan the Army was in the right.
Sullivan and the intervention specialist argued until Judith Roth, an assistant principal, joined them.
“She collected the forms, the filled ones and the remaining blank ones, and put a stop to it,” Sullivan said.
Both Roth and Principal Hanlon agreed with Sullivan.
“I walked over and dealt with it,” said Roth. “It needed to be fixed. It was deceptive and not a practice we care for.”
Roth gathered about 35 or 40 filled-in forms. She said part of the problem is the fast turn-over in the military recruiters; new ones are apparently not told about the school’s policy regarding military recruitment.
“There are many options after high school students should learn about,” Roth said. “But it needs to be done by the rules.”
Hanson was not pleased with the Army’s behavior either.
“What [the Army] did was not part of the agreement,” Hanlon said. “Every year I deal with different recruiters in any event where the military is involved. It’s like we’re chasing our tail here.”
Hanlon said he has notified the director of the Red Ribbon week and Career Day what the rules and standards are for military recruiters on campus. Those recruiters, he said, cannot go into the classrooms or walk around on campus. Students who are interested must contact the military through the career center.
“I am disturbed by this,” Hanlon said. “They sort of did an end-around on us. It’s a deceptive way to get information on the students.”
Sullivan said she has had to sign the opt-out form each year her son has been in school.
“The school is supposed to be vigilant in the protection of our children,” she said.
Sean was a bit more forgiving than his mother.
“I don’t think that it is unreasonable for them to ask you for that information as long as they tell you ahead of time what they are after,” he said. “To attach it to a waiver is wrong. They can have their booths but they should notify the parents in advance.”