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N.H. Equal-Access Law May Curtail Military Recruiting in Schools

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Five years ago, officials at Contoocook Valley Regional High School in New Hampshire were so concerned about what they perceived to be overzealous military recruiters that they adopted a policy intended to bring about some order.

As one of the largest high schools in the state, with 730 students, Contoocook Valley is a frequent target of recruiters from the various branches of the armed forces.

"They are to follow our guidelines by letting us know when they will be on campus and setting up appointments the same as what we do with college recruiters," explained Ronald W. Pacy, the school's principal. But despite the policy, he said, school officials have had "some difficulty with 'bird-dogging,' where they're hustling the kids to go into the service."

The procedural guidelines established at Contoocook Valley and many other New Hampshire high schools were perceived as attempts to curb military recruiters' access to students, according to Elenore Freedman, executive director of the New Hampshire Association of School Principals. And over the past several years, she said, the local recruiters and their supporters mounted efforts to combat such restrictions.

Bill Passed

During the most recent session of the New Hampshire General Court, as the state legislature is called, supporters of the military were able to pass a bill that requires school districts statewide to give military recruiters the same access to students that recruiters from colleges and industries have.

But since most districts claim that they already grant at least equal access to military recruiters, the new law is expected to curtail military recruiters' access to students rather than increase it.

During hearings on the measures last spring, several witnesses from the military testified that they felt they were "being discriminated against," according to Donald F. Day, a consultant for the state department of education.

"We felt they were being treated the same as other student recruiters," Mr. Day said. "They want to be treated differently from the industry and college recruiters."

Ms. Freedman contends that the military recruiters are in the schools "much more often than the others" and frequently "just show up" unannounced.

When school officials complain, according to Ms. Freedman, they are considered uncooperative. During the legislature's hearings, she said, representatives of two military branches presented a list of 43 high schools they described as being uncooperative with military-recruitment efforts.

After surveying 34 of those high schools on their practices, Ms. Freedman concluded that the allegations were unfounded. She said the responding school officials were unanimous in their opposition to the law on the grounds that their own policies sufficed.

Initially, according to Ms. Freedman, many of the school officials surveyed said they were insulted that their school had been included on the list. She said that in general they believed the military to be a good alternative for some students who are not sure of their plans after high school.

But they had opposed an earlier version of the recruiting bill that would have required school officials to provide military recruiters with lists of students and their home telephone numbers, Ms. Freedman said. The final version of the law, from which that requirement was omitted, is simply unnecessary, she added.

Prior to the law, many schools frequently permitted military recruiters to talk to students during their lunch periods several times during the year, while other types of recruiters were in the schools only once a year. Ms. Freedman said the survey indicated that most school officials believe the law will restrict military recruiters' access to students.

Although it is still early in the school year to tell, Mr. Day agrees that military recruiters will have fewer opportunities to meet with students. "I think [the law] will sharpen local policy as far as the recruiters coming to talk to students," Mr. Day said. "If it does that, then it's good."

Seventeen states have enacted legislation that either mandates equal access to students for military recruiters or permits such access; five states have laws requiring schools to provide recruiters with student information, according to a spokesman for the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, a nonprofit organization that counsels young men and women on the draft and in recent years has monitored the state of military-recruiting activity.

At least nine states and the Congress have considered legislation to make recruitment easier in high schools, according to the conscientious objectors' group.

In 1982, when the Reagan Administration decided to continue peacetime draft registration, officials at the U.S. Defense Department unsuccessfully attempted to promote national legislation that would have permitted the military officials "to seek lists of students for recruitment purposes," according to Ivan Gluckman, legal counsel for the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

List of Names

Mr. Gluckman said a number of states have considered legislation that would require the schools to provide military recruiters with lists of students' names.

But "equal access" is a different issue, Mr. Gluckman said, and the national association encourages its members to provide the military re-cruiters with the same degree of access to students as that afforded other recruiters. Two years ago, according to Mr. Gluckman, the association's board of directors passed a resolution supporting the concept of occupational options for students, including the training provided by the military, and suggesting that schools cooperate with recruiters. Another resolution of "long standing," however, advises school officials not to give out students' names to recruiters from any institution, Mr. Gluckman added.

Jack Muhlenbeck, spokesman for the U.S. Army's recruiting headquarters, said military recruiters do have some problems with schools that do not permit access to students or that provide access "only sometimes" during the school year. "All military recruiters," he added, "would like to have greater access to high-school and college students."

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