Let in the army or risk your funding

11th July 2003 at 01:00

Parents alarmed as military gains right to access students' details and visit schools. Stephen Phillips reports

NEW requirements for US schools to hand over student names, addresses and phone numbers to military recruiters or face loss of funding have angered teachers and parents.

The change, contained in an obscure clause of President Bush's sweeping education reform law, allows a student's details to be passed to the military unless parents specifically object. It also gives military officials the same rights as colleges and universities to visit schools and court pupils.

The information gleaned is being used to step up army sales pitches to school-age children, allowing more to be cold-called at home and sent glossy brochures.

The clause was only noticed last September when army personnel started showing up at some schools.

Previously, one-third of America's 22,000 secondary schools had declined military requests for information about their students. The architect of the clause, Louisiana Republican congressman David Vitter, has said such schools "demonstrated an anti-military attitude that I thought was offensive.

"Sometimes we run into schools that have personal opinions. Why should they have the right to make a decision for a class of 500 people?" added staff sergeant Scott Fox, commander of an army recruitment station in Bozeman, Montana.

Recruiters are also using data from the Armed services vocational aptitude battery, a military entrance test sat by 1.25 million students at 14,000 high schools last year - more than took the ACT college entrance exam - to hone their pitches.

"We do call people at home and my recruiters are frequently in schools," said Sergeant Chris Duncan, who heads the recruitment station in Springfield, Missouri, where 90 per cent of the local schools administer the military aptitude tests.

The 23 schools he targets generally furnish student information on request, said Sgt Duncan, adding that he had not yet invoked the law against the one school that was holding out.

The softly-softly approach has not prevailed elsewhere, though.

"We had a military recruiter who came into a school demanding a list of all students," according to Jill Wynns, of San Francisco's board of education.

"He said to the member of staff, 'you're in violation of the law and will lose federal funding'."

The city has since put military disclosure on an equal footing with next-of-kin details, sending each child home with a form to fill out indicating whether they want their information passed on.

The opt-in policy differs from the Bush legislation's opt-out thrust, but Ms Wynns said White House officials had not registered opposition.

"The military has demanded the right to walk on to campus anytime they want," added Ms Wynns. She said the fact that San Francisco had been forced to abandon its long-standing ban on military personnel from school premises did not mean "unfettered access".

"This is a huge privacy issue. These are children trying to make difficult life decisions. Teachers are there in loco parentis to help them make those decisions and not be pressured," said Ms Wynns, who branded the military clause "inappropriate".

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