Districts Curtail Military’s Access to Student Lists

By Millicent Lawton — January 30, 1991 8 min read

The Los Angeles and San Francisco boards of education voted last week to change their longstanding policies of supplying military recruiters with the names and addresses of district high-school students.

The Los Angeles board voted 5 to 1 to stop honoring any requests for directory information on its students, whether by the military or private marketers. The Los Angeles Unified School District is the nation’s second largest.

In San Francisco, the seven-member board voted unanimously to bar on-campus recruitment activities by all military organizations and to prohibit the release of student-directory data to armed-forces recruiters without the specific written consent of parents.

The actions followed a decision Jan. 9 by the Oakland, Calif., district to require parental permission before providing student information to recruiters.

Late last week, at least one other California school board, in the East Side Union High School District in San Jose, adopted similar limits on recruiters’ access to student lists.

School-board members in San Francisco and Oakland said that while concern for privacy was at the root of their decisions, the Persian Gulf war had heightened the immediacy of the issue.

“I’m sure the Persian Gulf situation lends urgency to it,” said Dan Kelly, a member of the San Francisco board. “That’s the immediate goad.”

JoAnne Miller, the president of the San Francisco board, stressed that its vote was based on parental and student concern over alleged harassment and invasion of privacy by military recruiters that predates the war.

“The message [of the resolution] is that people have a right to privacy,” Ms. Miller said. Asking for military-recruiting information, she said, “is up to [students] and to their families, not the school district.”

For the Los Angeles board’s president, Jackie Goldberg, the main impetus behind her resolution was a desire to curb unsolicited mailings to students for such services as tuxedo rentals and credit cards, not to single out the military for exclusion.

But Ms. Goldberg said she was upset by anecdotal evidence from current and former students that military recruiters had been targeting low-income, minority neighborhoods.

Col. John Myers, director of advertising and public affairs at the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Sheridan, near Chicago, said the districts’ decisions to curtail access to such “extremely helpful” lists could hamper recruiting efforts.

“It’s certainly not going to make our job any easier,” he said.

Calling the decisions “unfortunate,” Colonel Myers said they will ''require recruiters to do a little bit more face-to-face prospecting when they can.”

“I consider it to be a little paternalistic,” the colonel said of the board votes. “All we’re doing is providing information.”

Thomas A. Shannon, executive director of the National School Boards Association, attributed moves to reduce schools’ assistance to recruiters to “primarily the [antiwar] activists.”

“The Persian Gulf has brought [such issues] to the fore again,” he said. “This is sort of a resurrection of Vietnam.”

Many Districts Share Lists

Under the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, commonly known as the Buckley Amendment, directory information on students may be released publicly as long as parents have been given an opportunity to withhold it.

School districts around the country routinely supply student-directory data, usually about graduating seniors, on request to colleges, trade schools, and some employers, including the military, that wish to call or write students for recruitment.

Some districts honor all such requests, either without charge or for a processing fee, while others review them on a case-by-case basis, according to school officials interviewed last week. Many try to keep the information from any group trying to sell goods to students.

The armed forces are the only institution to which the San Francisco district has supplied such information, Ms. Miller said, and it has done so at no charge.

Oakland has assessed a $150 fee for each list requested, while Los Angeles has charged about 3 cents per name for each of the district’s roughly 60,000 juniors and seniors, officials of the two systems said.

The NSBA and the National Association of Secondary School Principals are on record as recommending that schools provide military recruiters the same information they give other educational or career groups.

In an effort to smooth relations between educators and military recruiters, six major education associations, including the NSBA and nassp, in 1984 drew up a set of guidelines with the military covering mutual expectations about access to students.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, more than 40 percent, or about 115,500, of the military’s 277,820 enlistments in 1989 were either 17-year-olds, who needed parental permission, or 18-year-olds. The figures do not include college students enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

In the 1989-90 school year, the Oakland district received a total of 19 requests for student information, five of which were from the military, said Sherri Willis, a district spokesman. The district has about 2,000 graduating seniors each year.

Under the earlier Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland policies, parents did have the option of pulling their children’s names from lists that might go to the military, but school-board officials said such instructions were either unclear, unheeded, or buried in policy manuals.

Ms. Miller, the San Francisco board president, said she tried about six years ago to ensure the change in policy adopted last week, and was surprised when she learned more recently that the district was still supplying names to the military.

She said her daughter, now a college freshman, had been “incensed” when she and her friends were inundated by military-recruiting materials. “They feel terribly invaded,” Ms. Miller said.

Fifty-six students from San Francisco’s 16 high schools were recruited into military service last year, Ms. Miller said. “That’s not a number I’m proud of,” she added.

Colonel Myers said great pains are taken to avoid the perception that recruiters’ calls are a nuisance or harassment, because the Army knows it to be counterproductive.

“We’re very, very sensitive to the possibility of being perceived by students or their parents as a nuisance,” he said. Recruiters are trained to remove a student’s name from a call list if the student or his parents say they do not wish to be contacted again, Colonel Myers said.

Sheila Jordan, an Oakland board member, said parents want to be sure students “really have a chance to digest and think about” the implications of joining the armed forces.

Ms. Jordan said she first became aware of such concerns several months ago at a meeting at her son’s high school when a variety of parents said their children had been “harassed” by military recruiters.

At that time, she said, there was “no question the escalation of a war effort [due to the Gulf crisis] was what was spurring people on.”

The Oakland resolution adopted this month formally condemned the U.S. military buildup in the Gulf, designated January and February as “peace months,” and encouraged parents, students, and school employees to attend an antiwar demonstration planned for Jan. 26 in San Francisco.

Some of the California board members said they were also influenced in their decisions by alleged misrepresentation of the military experience by recruiters, the disproportionate number of blacks in the armed services, and the military’s policy against enlisting homosexuals.

At the Oakland board meeting where the vote was taken, Ms. Jordan said, some recent graduates appeared who felt they had been misled when they were recruited. Often a recruiter’s emphasis is on “prestige” or job training instead of harsher realities, she said.

According to Ms. Goldberg, the Los Angeles school-board president, the board’s student member, a Hispanic male, told her that he had received a great deal of recruiting material, some of which he termed “deceptive” because it seemed to promise $40,000 scholarships.

“The impression you get is that you’re getting a scholarship, as opposed to a scholarship in return for military service,” Ms. Goldberg said.

San Francisco and Oakland board members said that because their districts are 85 percent to 90 percent minority, sensitivity about minority overrepresentation in combat service, or recruiting targeted at minorities, helped spur the policy changes.

“A lot of resentment” in Oakland’s minority community came out at the time of the board vote, Ms. Jordan said, because of what many blacks see as a “first to go, first to die” situation for blacks in the armed forces.

A Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Maj. Doug Hart, said blacks do represent 20.8 percent of the military, compared with about 12 percent of the general population. But the armed services’ reputation as an equal-opportunity employer could explain the difference, he said.

“We don’t target specific minority groups,” Major Hart said. “It’s an all-volunteer force.”

The military’s policy of denying entrance to homosexuals also made it unwelcome in San Francisco schools, according to Dr. Kelly, one of the board members there. Such a practice, he said, conflicts with a district policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual identity or other personal characteristics.

Schools and the military have clashed before over recruiters’ access to high-school students.

In 1984, Atlanta peace activists filed a lawsuit against the city’s school board contending they were illegally denied access to the schools to counter military recruiting. The U.S. Justice Department argued that military recruiters should have “preferred access” for “compelling” reasons of national security.

Four years later, a federal district judge ruled that the activists had the right to enter the schools to express their views. That ruling was upheld by a federal appeals court in 1989. (See Education Week, Dec. 13, 1989.)

A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 1991 edition of Education Week as Districts Curtail Military’s Access to Student Lists