Military recruiting in schools

June 1, 2016

 

Although few high school teens are eligible to enlist in the armed forces, federal law requires that the majority of secondary schools across the country provide military recruiters with the names, address, and phone numbers of students who have not exclusively requested otherwise. Throughout Oakland County, schools work to interpret that in a variety of ways.

Mandated since 2001, schools that receive funding through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), and do not qualify under the religious objection to service in the armed forces, must comply with the federal regulation by issuing military recruiters with a list of directory information when they request it, and provide recruiters with the “same access to students” that the school gives to any other higher education institution and prospective employers. Failure to do so is grounds for denial of federal funds. 

Section 9528 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended as NCLB, provides that schools must inform parents of the recruiting policy and notify parents of the right to opt-out of having their child’s personal information distributed to recruiters for the armed forces. The way the law is written, opting in is the default selection, thus benefiting recruiters, placing the burden on the student/parent to take action on something they may stumble across only once in a jumbled stack of enrollment papers. 

Rep. David Vitter (R-LA) sponsored the amendment to NCLB in 2001, which created the policy that mandates military recruiters receive access to student information. In summary, the amendment “requires any secondary school that receives ESEA funds to permit regular U.S. Armed Services recruitment activities on school grounds, in a manner reasonably accessible to all its students.” 

Each branch of the military is responsible for recruiting its own members, and, aiming to meet their annual recruitment goal, recruiters target high schools, among other venues. 

Today, recruiters visiting high school campuses, and setting up a table in the cafeteria, is quite common. Yet, they were not always welcomed. In 1999, it was reported by the Pentagon that recruiters who requested access to schools were refused 19,228 times. In the 1990s, roughly one-third of American high schools denied recruiters access to student directory information and refused to let them reach students on the school grounds. Doing so made recruiting a more expensive, stressful and timely endeavor.

The Great Lakes Recruiting Battalion of the United States Army Recruiting Command, 3rd Brigade, is responsible for recruiting Michiganders in the Lower Peninsula to join the Army. Mark Czarnecki, chief of Army public affairs and advertising, based in Lansing, noted the Army seeks to fulfill 30 percent of its recruitment goal through high school seniors. Graduates are expected to fulfill the remaining 70 percent of the recruitment goal. 

“Only three out of 10 (students) are qualified to join the army because of academics, meaning they fail the ASVAB or medical or (have) too many law violations,” Czarnecki said. “You've got the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, and everybody is competing for those three, not just the armed forces, but the colleges too. The Army is the largest branch of service. The Army and the National Guard put in more people than all the (other) services combined.” 

The method of reaching the student, said Czarnecki, depends on the prospective recruit. “It depends on the senior’s dominant buying motive – what is that senior’s reason for joining – to serve their country, for college money, for job security? By and large for Michigan it’s college, the continuing education. What is their motivation? Why do they want to buy the Army?”

Although the provision in NCLB requires that schools make students and parents aware of the military recruitment presence and their right to opt out of having directory information shared, there is no national standard or guidelines of the methods by which schools should notify families, which leaves it up to the discretion of each school's administration to determine how to spread awareness. 

Results from schools surveyed in Oakland County show a variety of methods of disseminating the information, and leaves unanswered the question of how successful their method is in reaching the parents and students. 

The Waterford School District notifies parents “annually in the districtwide newsletter,” said Rhonda Lessel, director of community relations. The Waterford district requests that, “parents or eligible students notify the superintendent in writing within two weeks of the notice.” In 2013-2014, two students opted out of receiving military recruitment information; in 2014-2015, three students opted out; and in 2015-2016, five students opted out, according to Lessel. 

Comparatively, Jessica Stilger, communication supervisor for the Berkley School District, said, “Parents are notified through the annual online paperless packet system that contains all the back-to-school paperwork for all students each year. They do have the option to opt out of military recruitment.” The percentage of students opting out in Berkley Schools increased over the last three years. For 2013-2014, 32.7 percent opted out, followed by 38.3 in the 2014-2015 school year, and over half the students opted out for the most recent school year, at 51 percent, or 152 out of 298 students. 

Rochester Community Schools received even more opt-out forms. In the 2013-2014 school year, over half of all seniors in Rochester Community Schools opted out of having their personal information made available to military recruiters, reported Lori Grein, director of community relations and foundation, who said 876 of 1,232 students opted out. The following year, 69 percent, or 799 students of 1,157 students, opted out; and for the year coming to a close, 46 percent, or 560 of 1,203 students, opted out. 

The district provides seniors with a “registration packet in August that includes a form for parents to complete if they do not want their student to be contacted by a recruiter,” said Grein. “The completed form is then turned into the district.”

In Bloomfield Hills Schools, the notice is disseminated during registration “There is a document that parents and students must sign to opt out. This document is available and offered to all students in the building one time a year,” said Shira Good, director of communications and community relations for the district. “The document is also offered to all new students when they arrive at the high school to register for classes.” 

Good noted that, “We do not keep specific numbers but it is approximately one-third of the student body each year” that opt out of having their information made available to recruiters.

Birmingham Public Schools “provides an opt out letter for parents in the fall of each year,” said Marcia Wilkinson, director of communication and family engagement, although the district does not track the number of students who opt out. “We do not retain that data, but very few” choose to opt out, she said. 

The Troy School District will “notify families throughout annual notices every year,” said Kerry Birmingham, director of communication and strategic initiatives. “We do not keep statistics on how many students opt out, but they are welcome to do that by notifying the district,” she said. 

Oxford Community Schools directs people to the district website, which “contains specific information about military recruiters in the board policies,” said Matt Johnson, director of marketing and communications for the district. “The parent, legal guardian or student if over the age of 18, opts out via sending a signed written request to the board that indicates that the student, parent or legal guardian does not want the student’s directory information to be accessible to official recruiting representatives. When that request is received, the board secretary would forward it to the school, and no information would go out about that student.” For the 2015-2016 school year, Johnson said there was not one student who opted out. 

Still, at least one Oakland County school takes a completely different approach that appears it may be inconsistent with federal law. 

“We do not give military recruiters personal information about our students,” said Daniel Stevens, principal of Brandon High School. “Instead, we have our students opt in to have information released. If they show an interest or desire in the military, we will help put them in contact with recruiters.”

Michigan Department of Education communications spokesman William DiSessa said, “We are not aware of any push-back, and have no position,” regarding the military recruitment policies. DiSessa did not cite any school district that had formal complaints about recruitment practices. 

Recognizing the inconsistencies in the way school districts across the nation are notifying students and parents as required by NCLB, the New York branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) put forth a Military Recruitment Model Policy. It calls for parents and students to be informed of the military recruitment policy on multiple occasions, through multiple avenues. 

NYCLU’s model policy, designed to protect students’ privacy rights while properly executing the federal mandate states, in part, that “the recruiter policy of each school shall be distributed to students and explained in a letter mailed to parents in the first 30 days of each school year. The policy shall be made available to the public through the school office and displayed prominently on posters in the school, in the school handbook and where applicable, on the school’s website. Moreover, the recruiter policy shall be distributed to students and parents upon enrollment at the school.” 

The policy also suggests that, “under no circumstances shall students and/or parents be required to submit opt out forms before November 30 of a given school year. No student information shall be released prior to the opt out deadline.” To aide in public transparency, the policy recommends public reporting of the “number and percentage of students who opted out, the date(s) of receipt of request for student directory information by recruiters, and the date(s) that student information was disclosed to recruiters.”

Darrell Dawsey, communications director for the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said around 2007, they “sent a letter to (Michigan) school districts advising them on best practices and student privacy, and had local branches that connected with students and their families to provide them with what their rights are and opt out forms. The ACLU of Michigan, we firmly believe that parents and children have every right to be notified and opt out of these programs. We think the policy should be amended to ensure that privacy rights are respected.” 

In terms of monitoring the policies of the districts, Dawsey said, “You send a letter and remind folks of what the law is. We’re not equipped to make sure everybody is following up on these policy suggestions. I’m not sure if there were any subsequent complaints or concerns.”

As part of the recruitment process, in addition to receiving student contact information, recruiters are permitted to offer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test on campus, and during school hours. The test is administered by recruiters, and is designed to gauge an individual’s potential success in the military. It is administered to high school students, post-secondary students, and other military applicants. Stevens, of Brandon High School, said, “As our counselors get to know our students, they have individual conservations with them about their post-high school plans. If a student indicates that the military may be in their plans then they will suggest taking the ASVAB test,” which he said, approximately 30 students did this school year. 

Additional Oakland County schools that offer the test include Waterford, Oxford, and Clawson. “The ASVAB varies year-to-year. Usually we have 30 to 35 kids take it,” said Carolee Penny, counseling office secretary at Clawson High School. In Clawson, students sign up to take the test. “It would be about 35 or 40 out of 130 kids, maybe. I think it helps them establish their aptitude and what they should be focusing on during their senior year as far as classes go.” 

Bloomfield Hills Schools doesn’t offer the test, said Good, “but sometimes the recruiter does give the test in our building to prospective students.” The Troy School District, on the other hand, directs students to an off-campus testing center.

In an advocacy statement released by The American Public Health Association (APHA), the organization said the “U.S. Congress should repeal the provisions of the NCLB act that mandates that public schools collaborate with military recruiters by providing full access to school buildings and contact information.” 

A 2011 article published in the American Journal of Public Health, found on the website for the National Institute of Health, reported that the youngest group of soldiers consistently shows the highest propensity for negative health effects, including, post-traumatic stress syndrome, substance abuse and suicide. "There are public health reasons for concern regarding military recruitment in public schools. The bulk of newly enlisted military personnel are developmentally in late adolescence – a time of relatively robust physical health but not necessarily complete brain development or a wise time to introduce high levels of stress," Amy Hagopian, PhD, and Kathy Barker, PhD wrote in the journal.

The article further stated, “A study of mental disorders in the U.S. military found the highest rates of all disorders, including alcohol abuse, anxiety syndromes, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder, among the youngest cohort, those aged 17 through 24 years. Another study found that younger soldiers had 30 percent to 60 percent more substance abuse disorders than did older soldiers, and younger women in particular had the highest incidence of attempted suicide or self-inflicted injuries. The youngest group of veterans also recently experienced a 26 percent increase in suicides from 2005 to 2007. A review of hospitalizations among military personnel in the 1990s showed the highest rates among the youngest recruits. We also know that the youngest active duty military personnel engage in the riskiest sexual behaviors and that almost one third of first births to active duty females are to women younger than 21 years.” 

Although the draft hasn’t occurred since 1973, “With only few exceptions, the registration requirement applies to all male U.S. citizens and male immigrants residing in the United States who are 18 through 25 years of age,” states the government notice on the Selective Service. The law states that all U.S male citizens must register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. 

Since Defense Secretary Ash Carter lifted gender-bans earlier this year, women are able to serve in front-line combat positions, and the issue of whether they must register for the Selective Service was before Congress. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) introduced legislation in the U.S. House that would require women to register. After passing in the Armed Services Committee, the issue was just voted down by the House.

Colonel Michael Matthews of the United State Army, released a strategy research project entitled, “Pinnacle: The Army’s Effort to Reform its Accession Process.” A member of the 2011 class from the masters program at U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania, Matthews outlines the changes that army recruiters have been adopting in response to challenges to reach recruiting goals. 

“In 2005, after several years of war,” Matthews wrote, “the Army, as well as several other services, failed to meet their recruiting goals by over 9,000 soldiers. Not since 1979, had USAREC (United States Army Recruiting Command) failed to meet its mission… USAREC found itself faced with a new external environment. Never before in the history of the all-volunteer force had USAREC been asked to recruit during a period of persistent conflict. Casualties from Iraq were increasing at a dramatic pace and pessimistic reports from the field were constantly in the news.”

In fiscal year 2006, the Army made some changes to address the shortfalls. “Enlistment bonuses were increased to attract recruits to critical and shortage MOS’s (military occupational specialties),” wrote Matthews, and “it dramatically increased recruiter production incentives and established a referral program which paid $2,000 for qualified referrals that enlisted and graduated from basic training.” Furthermore, “In order to achieve its objective, USAREC also had to accept lower quality recruits. Waivers for misdemeanor and felony violations increased as USAREC was forced to reach deeper into the social strata of America for its personnel.”

Other face-to-face time recruiters get with students often occurs casually, and each school can establish its own policy for what is required of recruiters, or what restrictions they must abide by.

“We have recruiters on a weekly basis, not every week the same branch, but what they do is we have a lobby right by our cafeteria in the high school and so they’ve been told they can set up a table in the back lobby, that they can’t go actively into the room and pick and choose kids,” said Penny of Clawson High School, who is responsible for submitting the list of student information to recruiters who ask for it. “If students are interested, they will go talk to the recruiter, but they’re not to actively go talk to the kids.” 

Having been with the school since 1992, Penny recalled, “When I first started in this office, we were very uncooperative, let’s say, in giving this information to the branches of the military, but we don’t have the choice any more. Sometimes, they come into the office and I give them a hard copy of the student information, the name, address, so on and so forth. Sometimes, I e-mail it to them, usually once a year.” She noted a time when there was an aggressive recruiter who overstepped the school policy. “They know they’re not to approach students in the hallway. We had a Marine recruiter one day. He was friendly, but he was out talking to kids in the hall, and the principal spotted him and put a stop to that.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law in December 2015, and is set to replace No Child Left Behind this coming fall, prohibits schools from creating an opt in process. Section 8528 of the ESSA states, “nothing in this subsection shall be construed to allow a local education agency to withhold access to a student’s name, address, and telephone listing from a military recruiter or institution of higher education by implementing an opt in process or any other process other than the written consent request process,” which refers to the opt out process. 

This new restriction is in opposition to a bill introduced in 2007, intended to remove the burden of having to opt out. Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA) sponsored the Student Privacy Protection Act, which intended to turn Vitter’s NCLB policy inside out, and require that parents/students opt in, rather than opt out. Honda’s sponsored legislation died in committee. ESSA will preclude that as a future option. 

However, DiSessa, of the MDE, stated, “(There) appears to be little, if any changes from NCLB to ESSA in this regard. We have been told that ESSA takes effect with the 2016-17 school year. For now, the language in ESSA, including opt out, is considered best practices. It’s important that MDE currently is developing ESSA guidance to our local districts.”

Regardless of whether a student/parent chooses to opt out of the school directory information that recruiters have access to, there’s still a likelihood that an individual student would appear in an alternate database, managed by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), known as the Joint Marketing and Advertising Research & Studies, or JARMS recruiting database. It’s “used by the services to educate potential prospects on the benefits of military services,” states the website for the DoD. The information is collected in various ways, including purchasing data from the Department of Motor Vehicle, the College Board, the ASVAB test, and from private data brokers, according to the ACLU, which proceeded to file a lawsuit against the DoD in 2006.

In Hanson v. Rumsfeld, the ACLU, “claimed the unconstitutionality of the JARMS database,” stated a release on the NYCLU website. “We succeed in getting a settlement forcing the DoD to stop collecting Social Security numbers, keep information for only three years, restrict the ages of students included in the database, and maintain better privacy standards for student information. Also, the DoD clarified the procedure for opting out of the database.” ­

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