No Child Left Behind

The Inlander | October 20, 2005
No matter what they say in the television commercials, the Pentagon isn’t looking for an Army of One. The Joint Chiefs are looking for an Army of one more and one more and one more after that. Military planners are striving to juggle an all-volunteer force that is strained beyond its limits in the wake of invasions and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

After President Bush declared war on an abstract, nation-less noun (a war in which the enemy can be anyone and anywhere), reserve units have been called extensively to active duty; the National Guard has been deployed overseas at a rate not seen since World War II. Mid-career family providers in their 40s and even 50s have been plucked out of civilian life in cities and towns throughout the Inland Northwest and sent off to combat.

And, as call-ups have become more frequent, the military, on a national level, has largely failed this year to meet recruitment goals. Given the lack of a draft, there is a disconnect between those serving as “volunteers” in the war and those who aren’t. A significant slice of America seems only vaguely aware of sacrifices borne by others.

Until it involves children.

High schools have become a reservoir of potential recruits for a military increasingly seeking a steady supply of soldiers.

Questions From Parents

Around Spokane, the military has always provided a viable post-high school career choice, especially for low-income students. But the military has gained more aggressive access to high schoolers thanks to previously obscure provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act, which threaten to cut off federal school funding if recruiters are kept away from student databases.

And parents or students who wish not to have their information forwarded to the military can receive confusing information about the choice to “opt out.”

At least that has been the case here, where Spokane School District officials in August adopted an opt-out policy that seemed almost punitive to some parents.

“I called and they said my son wouldn’t be on the honor roll,” Renee Roehl says about the district’s new privacy policy.

As in the past, Roehl signed a form requesting the school district not release information about her son, a senior at North Central, to the military. This year, she was told, privacy in one area means privacy in all.

“It’s his senior year, and they said he wouldn’t be in the yearbook. He wouldn’t be listed on the tennis team’s roster. They wouldn’t say his name at graduation. I hit the roof,” Roehl says.

So did other parents, who say the policy change came as a big surprise. Complaints flared up in recent weeks, and the school district has quickly reversed itself, once more allowing parents to specify student information be withheld only from the military on FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) forms. FERPA forms are due Oct. 24 in Spokane schools.

A larger question facing school boards and administrators in Spokane Public Schools is how to juggle the military’s needs with the district’s core mission of providing students the best options for their futures. Some don’t feel the schools are doing a good job at this.

“They are concerned about this linkage to federal budget money. I argue that this is about how do you best serve the kids in your district,” says Brad Read, a parent and high school English teacher in Spokane.

Targeted by Class?

This issue led to an insurrection in Seattle last spring. Parents at Garfield High School didn’t want recruiters targeting kids just because they are low-income or black, and the parent-teacher-student association voted to keep recruiters out.

“One piece of research I did was to find out how many times recruiters go to Lakeside, which is our (Seattle School District’s) prep school,” says Amy Hagopian, president of the Garfield PTSA. “And recruiters don’t go there. The guy I talked to, in 10 years as a career counselor, said he’s never seen Lakeside kids join the regular military. They go to the academies, like West Point. They don’t just join the Marines.”

There appears to be a similar dynamic in Spokane. Military recruiters visit Lewis and Clark High School as little as once a year, even though they are allowed in the building as many as four times a year.

At Rogers High, the recruiters come once a month. Rogers is also the only Spokane high school with an ROTC program.

There isn’t the same sense of outrage, however, that the district isn’t sticking up for more options for the kids at Rogers.

“The Peace and Justice Action League has a campaign to educate high school students about the pitfalls of recruiting. But it hasn’t taken off. We are not seeing the interest we expected from students or parents,” says Rusty Nelson of PJALS.

“Each school is different. Some schools say come anytime you want. Others say come once a quarter,” says Capt. John Richardson, an Army recruiter in Spokane.

In Spokane, a more conservative and more low-income city than Seattle, military careers have long been an honorable choice for high school grads. The military has seen little falloff in enlistments here, Richardson says: “Our enlistments have not changed over historic numbers.”

The continuing war in Iraq and the stepped-up search for recruits “has not been a concern for the school district,” says Emmett Arndt, director of teaching and learning for Spokane Public Schools. “We perceive that a military career is a viable and high-interest career for students.”

But parents and groups such as Spokane’s Peace and Justice Action League say the pressure to get recruits has increased in recent years, and students need to be shielded from high-pressure sales.

The nation’s 7,500 recruiters had a “stand-down” day on May 20 for retraining and refocus in the wake of embarrassing, and widely publicized, ethical lapses. There were no such lapses in the Spokane office, Richardson says.

A Grassroots Revolt

Hagopian, of the Garfield PTSA in Seattle, says such revelations were a driving force behind the group’s decision to ban recruiters last spring.

The recruiters are not banned, of course. “We informed them they are not welcome. Their presence is protected by federal law,” Hagopian says.

Still, no recruiters have yet paid a visit to Garfield this school year, she says. And the Seattle school board recently voted to clarify policies on school-visit and recruiting policies.

They have created a separate FERPA form for withholding student information from military recruiters. The half-page form allows students to opt out on their own, Hagopian says.

She notes that school districts such as the one in Rochester, N.Y., will pass along student information only if parents “opt in,” so to speak, by signing a form requesting information be given to recruiters. Career counselors at Garfield also try to have “counter recruiters” in the schools on military recruiting days, Hagopian says. The PTSA felt it was important to draw a line, Hagopian says, even though it may largely be symbolic.

“The dirty little secret is that the military will get your kids’ name,” she says, noting a military contract with a private firm to scour databases outside of schools.

“I think we rattled a few cages.”

The Inlander

Founded in 1993, The Inlander has quickly become the most trusted source of news and entertainment information for the sprawling Inland Northwest. While the majority of our readership lives in the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area -- a fast-growing part of the...
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