Special opts

A parental consent deadline that most parents don’t know exists is fast approaching

Students at Wooster High School and other high schools in the state may be moving into the bull’s-eyes of military recruiters. If they’re under 18, they can’t opt out themselves—only their parents can do it for them.

Students at Wooster High School and other high schools in the state may be moving into the bull’s-eyes of military recruiters. If they’re under 18, they can’t opt out themselves—only their parents can do it for them.

Photo By David Robert

Reno parents have until the end of the month to submit a written request that information on their children not be given to military recruiters.

Two federal laws, the “No Child Left Behind” education law and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2002, require local schools to turn over information on students to the military unless parents formally object. The requirements have generated heated discussion in some Nevada counties.

In Clark County, parents used online message boards such as the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s EForum to agitate for greater awareness and to force the school district to become more assertive in protecting students. On Aug. 4, some of them attended a school board meeting to ask that “opt-out” forms be provided to students and parents.

One online activist reported, “On the CCSD registration form, there is a question: ‘Restrict Directory Information? Yes or No.’ I would bet you don’t know all the consequences of what answering yes or no to this question would be. I would even bet you have no idea what ‘Directory Information’ is referring to. Well, this is just our point. There is no explanation of this question. Anywhere.” (The CCSD Web site also has a list of important school year dates that includes “Christa McAuliffe Day” but not the deadline for submitting opt-out forms.) A Counter-Recruitment Workshop was held in Las Vegas on Aug. 20.

Even in Douglas County, traditionally the state’s most Republican, parents asked for an opt-out form, and the school district posted one on-line.

The term “directory information” describes the information that is provided to people eligible to receive the information (like college recruiters) on students. On the Douglas County form, it’s described as one or more of eight items: The student’s name, address, telephone number, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, degrees and awards received, and photograph (including yearbook, class composite and newspaper photos). The federal law, however, requires only that name, address, and phone number be turned over to the military.

In Washoe County, there has been less activism, though where it’s appeared, it’s been relatively sophisticated. The Sparks-based national group Mothers Against the Draft (MAD) hired PRWeb, an outfit that distributes news releases to newsrooms around the United States, to publicize its existence. The group’s June 30 release criticized the Pentagon for tapping a marketing firm to compile a database on 30 million U.S. citizens between the ages of 16 and 25.

“The very existence of the database is an illegal and unwarranted violation of the privacy rights of the children,” according to the release.

The “No Child” law does in fact contain a subject heading that reads “Prohibition on nationwide database,” but the language of that section doesn’t actually prohibit it. It merely says the law doesn’t sanction it: “Nothing in this act … shall be construed to authorize the development of a nationwide database of personally identifiable information on individuals involved in studies or other unsafe collections of data under this Act.”

Washoe County doesn’t have a formal opt-out form yet, but it’s not being bureaucratic about requiring a formal legal document, either.

“We are developing an opt-out form,” says Washoe County School District spokesperson Steve Mulvenon. “Until then, a short letter to the principal will suffice.” But parents need to review available forms posted online to know what to write in their letters. Even better would be to read up on the issues because there are reports that some forms may deny information to military recruiters while still putting student information into a federal database.

Until the issue of military recruitment came along, Washoe was already allowing parents (or students over 18) to opt out of providing directory information, but it was a sweeping option. If a parent opted out, the district wouldn’t provide information on the student to anyone—universities seeking to lure students, politicians seeking to send congratulatory letters to graduates, military recruiters. The form now being developed by the Washoe district will make a distinction and allow parents to cherry pick different types of solicitations or recruitments. The form will be ready by a week before the Oct. 1 deadline, so it can reach parents in a timely fashion.

In some school districts in the east, some parents have called attention to a section of the law that says information on students can’t be given to recruiters “without prior written parental consent.” They contend that makes the law “opt-in” rather than “opt-out.” Mulvenon says Washoe doesn’t read it that way.

Federal law says districts must notify all parents. How carefully this has been done fluctuates from state to state, district to district. Some districts may use the kind of bureaucratic language Clark County did ("Restrict Directory Information? Yes or No") that conceals its meaning. In Washoe County, there is a much more careful explanation of the issue, including a definition of “directory information” similar to that on the Douglas County form. However, it is printed in nine-point type on a general parent information sheet dealing with many subjects.

In some school districts, schools alert parents to the choice by sending an opt-out form home in the new-student packet. In Seattle, Jo-Nell Simonian, daughter of former Reno High School science teacher Simon Simonian, knew of the law’s requirements and wanted an opt-out form when her two boys registered for school in 2004. But no such form was in the packet she received.

“Last year, I heard about it on NPR the day it was due,” she says. “I went over to the high school with a copy I printed off the Internet. I asked why it wasn’t included in the packet that was sent home. They told me they had run out of copies. I couldn’t believe it. They assured me it would be there this year. We’ll see.”

In New York City, the New York Amsterdam News recently reported, “There is also no uniform, enforced policy in New York City governing opt-out forms, which let students choose whether to release their personal information to recruiters. Many principals … are not even aware of the opt-out form. Some schools give out the form without any explanation and make no effort to collect it from students.”

The National PTA says the creation of such massive records “should respect the rights to privacy and be relevant to a child’s education” and opposes forcing parents or students to opt-out. In a statement, the group said the system should work the other way around: “National PTA will continue to support legislation and policies that would change current law by providing for an ‘opt in’ policy where interested students and families can instead choose to request contact from military recruiters.”

Once the recruiters have information on students, it’s used in classic public-relations fashion. The recruiters are given an Army manual, School Recruiting Program Handbook, that describes how they should go about signing up students. Excerpts:

· To effectively work the school market, recruiters must maintain rapport … and develop a good working relationship with key influencers. … Never forget to ask school officials if there is anything you can do for them and their students. Don’t be looked upon as someone always asking for something. … Be so helpful and so much a part of the school scene that you are in constant demand, so if anyone has any questions about the military service, they call you first! … Cultivate coaches, librarians, administrative staff, and teachers, especially those whose subjects correlate with Army programs. By directing your efforts toward other faculty members you may be able to obtain the information necessary to effectively communicate with students.

· Attend as many school activities as possible. Offer your Army training and experience, your sports and hobby knowledge, etc. as a resource to the school. … Remember, damage can be done to school relationships by careless remarks made to students. They may be reported to school officials.

· An effective sales approach would be to tailor a program to fit the needs and interests of the individual school.

· Students who stand out as leaders among their peers are typically student influencers. Know your student influencers. Students such as class officers, newspaper and yearbook editors, and athletes can help build interest in the Army among the student body. … Some influential students such as the student president or the captain of the football team may not enlist; however, they can and will provide you with referrals who will enlist. More importantly is the fact that an informed student leader will respect the choice of enlistment, in turn, future Soldiers feel good about their decision to join.”

A copy of the Douglas County form can be found at www.dcsd.k12.nv.us/pdf/8-releaseinfo-FERPA.pdf. An all-purpose form developed by the American Friends Service Committee can be found at www.afsc.org/youthmil/militarism-in-schools/opt-out.rtf .