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Photograph by Felipe Buitrago

Enlisting Help: Patricia Martinez-Roach (second from right)—with (left to right) Arthur Roach, Stephanie Tan and Christina Brown—says the issue of military recruiters having too much access to information is one of the issues that led her to run for the East Side Union High School District's board of trustees, and that she's hearing plenty about recruiting tactics from students.

Student Bodies

A Silicon Valley school district has become the front line in a battle over No Child Left Behind

By Diane Solomon

PATRICIA MARTI-Roach says that before she ran for the East Side Union High School District's board of trustees, she was constantly getting calls from Marine recruiters.

"They wanted my oldest son, David," she says. "I finally asked them, 'How did you get this number? This is a private number!' They said, 'We got it from the school district.' I kept asking them to not call me."

Her dealings with recruiters were one of the things that pushed her to run for the East Side board way back in 1994. And if the recruiting issue gave her headaches then, she thinks it's even worse now.

What happened is the federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which requires public high schools to provide student names, addresses and phone numbers to military recruiters. A family's consent is assumed unless they send their school a written request "opting out."

Martinez-Roach meets monthly with the district's students to listen to their concerns and bring them back to the board, and she's hearing a lot more about recruiters.

"My students have been telling me about military recruiters. They're roaming around their campuses and some students say they are invading their space," she says. "Other students say that recruiters are cool, and they're their 'buddies.' They go to football games; they hang out during lunchtime. One student said, 'They listen to me when there's something I want to talk about.' Which got me thinking, 'I'm glad the student had someone to talk to, but then I'm wondering if they were taking advantage? These are really just kids in adult bodies."

Martinez-Roach isn't the only one concerned. Now that No Child Left Behind has been in effect for a few years, districts like East Side Unified are taking a closer look at the impact it's had on student and parent privacy rights.

The Army and its National Guard have already requested data for East Side Unified's 11,821 juniors and seniors. With the Army and Army National Guard missing their recruiting quotas and no end in sight for the Iraq war, military recruiters are hungry for student bodies.

But this month, the East Side District threw a wrench in the works. At its Oct. 6 meeting, its board of trustees voted to delay providing student information to military recruiters until administrators were able to send another letter advising parents of their right to opt out.

The board had already sent out a letter and included opt-out information in its Parent Handbook. But they suspect the system has been less than effective so far. Once a parent opts out, the form is placed in the student's permanent record. As of Oct. 6, the district had less than 200 opt-outs in its system—this for a district of 24,500 students.

In or Out?

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, (D-Calif.) thinks parents should be able to opt in rather than out. He's sponsored H.R. 551, the Student Privacy Protection Act of 2005. H.R. 551 would amend No Child Left Behind, releasing student information to recruiters only if parents explicitly request that it be released.

"I was a school principal, and we sent information packages and handbooks out each year," says Honda. "An opt-out form can be lost in the shuffle. School districts shouldn't have to be burdened with the opt-out process."

He says his Silicon Valley constituents complain that recruiters are constantly calling. Which isn't as surprising as you might think, considering that it's currently possible for a student to be on the cold-call lists of all four military branches, plus their reserves, simultaneously.

"We have a lot of privacy laws that protect children from commercial interests," Honda says. "Their privacy is protected by law and here we are telling schools to share private information with the military or they will lose their funding. It's out of line that they say you will lose your funding if you won't give up this information. It's extortion."

Perhaps it's not surprising that East Side Unified is the front line of this issue—it's the largest high school district in California, with 18 high schools spanning 180 square miles. A large percentage of its students are English learners who speak a total of 56 different languages at home. The district includes some of Silicon Valley's wealthiest and poorest families and some of its highest and lowest performing students.

UC-San Diego professor Jorge Mariscal suggests East Side Unified's high percentages of low income and Spanish speakers make it particularly attractive to military recruiters. Mariscal says that although the military denies it, they recruit by ethnicity and Latinos are their largest market.

"For the next 50 years at least, Latinos are going to be the biggest military age population," he says. "It has to do with demographics."

Mariscal, who heads Project Yano, an organization that attempts to gives high students and their parents balanced information about military recruitment, says many students are lured by the promise of a free college education.

The Fog of War Recruitment

Military recruiter contact at East Side Unified schools takes a variety of forms. It is hard to quantify because the district and its schools don't track contact, and there isn't a policy regimenting an allowed number of visits. One school's JROTC instructor told this reporter that the Army visited every two to three weeks to drop off literature. The same school's guidance counselor said the Army had come to the career center twice this semester. The school's Army recruiter said he drops by weekly.

Some may have military recruiters visiting as often as once per week per branch; others may limit contact to career information days when recruiters from colleges, vocational schools and community outreach programs like City Year are all invited on campus to recruit.

Some offer their students the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) on a voluntary basis with parental notification. The district doesn't track its use. Many East Side District educators regard it as one of the best tools available to help youth learn about their aptitudes and interests. It is paid for, administered and graded by military personnel. Students are asked to enter their personal contact information and to indicate whether they are interested in a military career. Recruiters can use this information for recruiting even if a parent opts out.

J. Manuel Herrera is the president of the ESU Board. A graduate of the district's Overfelt High School who has served on this board for 16 years, he says the situation with recruiters on campus has gotten out of hand.

"What we have now is a situation that permits extraordinary access and privilege to military recruiters," he says. "This needs to change. Access should be consistent. If their pitch relies on career and educational opportunities, that shouldn't be privileged over the many other opportunities offered to students. Why should nursing or biotechnology or law enforcement be at a disadvantage in getting their messages to our students while the military is given premium access?"

The Pitch

Military recruiters' main pitch on high school and community college campuses is that they will pay for college educations. But Rosalie Ledesma, director of Mission College's ACCESS Program, which helps first-generation college students make it, says that the recruiters aren't providing the fine print. "Recruiters tell our students that if you join we will pay for your college education. The conversation stops there. The students don't question what that statement means, like what are the qualifiers? For how many years? How many units? Will you pay for a bachelor's degree?"

The Montgomery GI Bill program provides veterans with up to 36 academic months of educational benefits after severance. Army programs currently offer $37,224-$71,424 to use during that period for college. Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs said that the average Montgomery GI Bill pay-out was $5,540.

"It takes most students at least four years to earn a degree. My students say that there is definitely a cap on the benefits. What if a student decides to go to a private university like Santa Clara University? $10,000 won't get them through even one semester," she says. "I asked an Army recruiter to show me a contract that outlined exactly what the benefits were and the requirements for a college degree. They've told me that they won't provide it. And when I ask them why, they say it is because they don't have one. It's not clear to the students what they are getting."

Staff Sgt. David Driggers works out of the U.S. Army's Almaden recruiting station. He recruits students at three high schools: Andrew Hill, Los Gatos and Leland. Driggers visits his high schools every week during lunchtimes. He first checks in at the school's front office and career center and then walks around the campus answering questions.

"If a student is interested, I'll give them my card and we will start a process that begins with me meeting with the student and their parent or guardian," says Driggers. "It's not a situation where anyone can say we are trying to manipulate them."

The Fine Print

In explaining the Army's educational benefits, Driggers couldn't produce anything in writing other than the verbiage stated at www.goarmy.com: "Depending on how long you enlist with the Army and the job you choose, you can get up to $71,424 to help pay for college. All you have to do is give $100 a month during your first year of service."

When asked about the Montgomery GI Bill website, which says the Montgomery GI Bill provides up to 36 months of educational benefits, Driggers said that the 36 months were academic months, but was not able to define what an academic month was or if full-time or part-time attendance changed its definition. None of the Army's Story Road recruiting station's brochures had this or other detailed written information.

Driggers says students can enroll in classes during their active service.

"You can get 100 percent of your tuition paid while you serve," he says. "The Army will give you time off to go to school and we have online courses that soldiers can take while deployed. We also have courses offered on military bases even in Iraq. The Army will give you a computer, printer and free Internet access through its e-Army U program."

Students theoretically could get their degree within 36 academic months—whatever those are—if they could take a significant number of courses while enlisted. However, despite Driggers' assurances, not all Army jobs allow someone to attend classes simultaneously.

Ledesma says her students told her there was no way they could enroll in school and serve in the military at the same time. "So they are delaying their education— they get out and then they come here," she says. "Why don't they just start at the community college to begin with? In four years they could be done, instead of having to delay their education by going into the military and risking their lives."

Up In Arms

Parents in the East Side District also have other problems with the access that recruiters are getting.

Rubi Welch, whose son attends an East Side school, has joined a group of Silicon Valley parents who meet at the San Jose Peace Center to discuss recruitment issues at their children's schools. Welch thinks that allowing military recruiters on campus sends a confusing message.

"We are teaching our children to not be in gangs, not to kill, not to do bodily harm to anybody," she says. "So why are we allowing the military to come in here?"

Steve Morse, a coordinator for the Oakland-based GI Rights Hotline, says GI callers often say that there is a difference between what they were promised and what they got. He says recruiters might make themselves central to their recruits' lives at first, but when things don't go as promised with their jobs, deployment or benefits, he says, "they want to go back and talk to their recruiter who is then out of the picture. This is a shock to people, that what they were told doesn't hold water."

At the Oct. 6 meeting, East Side board members said they want a district military recruitment policy that is in compliance with No Child Left Behind, other applicable federal and state laws and their student privacy and safety policies. For now, there's a little bit of wait-and-see as to whether such a complicated maneuver, which would put limits on recruiting while not endangering the district's federal funding, is feasible. J. Manual Herrera directed Superintendent Bob Nuñez and his staff to analyze the law and existing policies and present a proposal at their Nov. 10 meeting.

"As board members," Martinez-Roach said at the October meeting, "we have the power to send a message to our parents—to our community—to say, 'We care about your privacy. We care about your safety.' We want our students to be safe."

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From the October 26-November 1, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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