By José A. Álvarez
Since his junior year in high school, recruiters tried to get Jese Perez to enlist in the military.
“They were very aggressive. They called every other week,” said the former Sweetwater High School student.
Perez said he got tired of the incessant phone calls.
“I had to make a lot of excuses,” said Perez, adding that he felt obligated to take the calls because they were from the same recruiter that had enlisted his brother in the Marines.
Perez ended up choosing college over the military, but said getting the recruiter to back off wasn’t easy.
The recruiter would have never contacted Perez if his parents had filled a form to keep his private information from reaching the military. However, they did not know they had that option.
“My parents didn’t know and I didn’t know anything either,” said Perez, now a student at Southwestern College.
Educating parents and the community about the military’s recruitment policies and practices in high school campuses is one of the objectives of a campaign launched by three Southwestern College professors.
During a forum titled “Books Not Bullets,” the threePhil Saenz, Alejandro Orozco, and Victor Chavez began a petition drive to generate signatures in support of a proposed change the “No Child Left Behind” law, which requires that high schools that receive federal funding turn over private information on students to military recruiters.
Under this law, if parents want their children’s information from reaching the military, they must sign an “Opt-Out” form. All parents receive the form from their child’s school at the beginning of the school year. However, the professors argue, the form is hidden under many other documents and it’s not properly titled, resulting in many parents overlooking it.
“It’s frightening that parents don’t know about that policy,” said Orozco, a philosophy professor. “When I ask my students if they or their parents know that there is a form they could fill out to keep their information private, they say they don’t know about it. We think that’s a shame.”
Currently, there is a movement nationwide to amend the “No Child Left Behind” law. House Bill H.R. 551 (Student Privacy Protection Act) seeks to revise the provisions for military recruitment in high schools and direct “local educational agencies to release secondary school student information to military recruiters if the student’s parent provides written consent for the release…”
In essence, the “Opt-Out” clause would be replaced by an “Opt-In” option, which would require parents to sign a form if they want information on their children to be made available to the military.
In San Francisco, Proposition I asked voters to decide if the City’s Unified School District should ban recruiters from its high schools and look for alternative sources of funding. The measure was approved by nearly 60 percent of voters.
“As educators, we are advocating for high school students to give serious consideration to attending college,” said Saenz, political science professor. “We want them to be fully aware of their rights to not provide information to military recruiters,” added Saenz, whose father was a Marine.
“Any way you look at it, this is a family privacy nightmare, another strong-arming of our local high schools, and a creepy warm-up to a possible draft,” states a message in www.leavemychildalone.org, a website created to encourage parents to “opt-out” their children. According to the site, which provides letters and forms for parents and a listing of all superintendents in the nation, more than 37,000 students have “opted-out.”
While the above campaign is taking place, the professors said they will be asking the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) to provide adequate information on the “Opt-Out” requirement and that the information be in English and Spanish, which the district already does. During the forum, which was attended by about 200 students, the professors also began gathering signatures which they will submit to district officials asking them to adopt the following changes regarding military recruitment at the local high schools. They said they will be recommending the following:
• Parents are provided an “Opt-Out” Form with “IMPORTANT INFORMATION REGARDING MILITARY RECRUITMENT” as a heading;
• The forms be provided in English and Spanish and in any other language that is requested;
• The forms be provided to parents as separate documents and not be accompanied by other school forms; and
• The forms readily available at all high school offices.
At the forum, the professors gathered about 100 signatures. They said they will present those, and any others they gather over the next two weeks, to SUHSD governing board members at their November 21 meeting.
“This effort has been generated out of our concern that some high school students are being aggressively recruited without the ‘informed’ consent of their parents,” said Saenz, indicating that the forum was not an anti-military forum. “All three us respect the military and the important role it plays in our society.”