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S.C. trustees resist military recruitment push

S.C. trustees resist military recruitment push


March 28, 2003
Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ - City schools will risk as much as $500,000 in federal money to shield students from military recruiters.
Santa Cruz City Schools trustees said concerns about recruitment tactics and students rights to privacy outweighed the financial risk.
“I don’t want to be cowardly,” said Tim Willis, board president. “I know it is the right thing to do in my mind. I know it is the right thing to do in my heart.”
Thursday, peace activists lauded the decision to require permission from parents or students before student names and addresses are released to military recruiters.
“It’s a major triumph,” said Bob Fitch of the Santa Cruz-based Resource Center for Nonviolence, calling on the community to “affirm the courage and insight of school board members.”
Administrators, on the advice of legal counsel, argued otherwise before trustees voted 5-0 vote late Wednesday for the new policy. The policy also calls for schools to provide students information about military life and recruitment and enlistment alternatives.
The Santa Cruz High School Youth Alliance proposed the resolution in response to a new law that forces schools to provide recruiters with the information or forfeit federal dollars. Several parent and community groups supported the student proposal, but few school districts across the country, and none in Santa Cruz County, have taken a similar stand.
Under the recruitment provision in the federal No Child Left Behind Act, parents have the right to request that their children’s information be withheld, a so-called “opt-out” policy. Less clear is whether schools can take a proactive stance, as Santa Cruz has done, which requires that parents “opt-in” before information is released.
All Santa Cruz County districts allow military recruiters on high school campuses.
A Marine recruiter said Monday that Santa Cruz was the only county school district that didn’t comply when the military requested information last year, and that it risked losing federal funding as a result.
Santa Cruz administrators said Wednesday that changes in district leadership and then questions about the rule delayed a response.
Officials at the Pentagon were unavailable to comment Thursday, and calls to a regional recruitment center in Mountain View were not returned.
Though officials at other Santa Cruz County school districts said they weren’t aware of specific requests, they planned to comply with military requests unless parents contact them with objections.
“We have no indication of any concerns,” said Catherine Hatch, assistant superintendent in Pajaro Valley. “My sense is that schools have handled it very well.”
Santa Cruz’s attorney recommended against the board’s action, but supporters argued it was legal.
Students’ right to privacy is protected by U.S. and California constitutions, said Ed Frey, a lawyer and parent of three district high school students.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union agree an opt-in policy is legal.
“The law is ambiguous,” said Ann Brick, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “It doesn’t say specifically say which way a school district needs to go, and I believe it leaves it up to the school district. ... If the Department of Defense is unhappy, I’m sure they will let schools know and give them the opportunity to discuss the matter.”
Santa Cruz Assistant Superintendent Alan Pagano suggested a compromise that called for the district to mail bilingual letters to parents advising them of their rights to withhold consent.
But Frey drew on his experience as a parent to argue that might not be enough.
“Despite your good faith efforts, parents do not always receive your notices,” he said.
Julie Haff, superintendent of San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District, said in February high schools there used the mail approach after consulting with legal counsel. Responses “flooded in,” she said, the majority of parents denying the release of information to recruiters.
If recruiters request information, and she doesn’t believe they have, they will receive a “small list,” Haff said.
In the Pajaro Valley, parents are informed of their rights when packets of information go out at the beginning of the school year, administrators said. The district policy, in force since 1987, allows the district to release student contact information to colleges, prospective employers and the military unless parents object.
While Pagano worried about losing between $350,000 and $500,000 in federal funding mostly aimed at helping children from Spanish-speaking and low-income families, parent Bill Beebe offered another perspective. His daughter will enter high school next year, he said.
“My daughter’s life is worth a half-million dollars,” he said. “Money might be taken away, but you should do the right thing.”
Teacher Sue Terence urged trustees to show courage, reminding them that the City Council took unprecedented action in September when it passed a resolution against war with Iraq. Since then, more than 150 U.S. towns and cities have followed suit, she said.
Trustee Mick Routh said some who know his conservative political leanings might be surprised that he favored the resolution. But he recalled his son’s recruitment experience.
The day the Gulf War started in 1991, his son, then a senior in high school, placed a large flag on his pickup, and a recruiter followed him home from school, Routh said. The teen eventually enlisted in the Marines.
“The day he left was the worst day of my life,” Routh said.
Military life can be a positive experience in peace time, he said. In the long run, it was for his son.
“But I saw how that recruiter hounded my son,” he said.
Routh also downplayed the financial risk, citing a similar experience with the Federal Emergency Management Agency during his tenure on the Capitola City Council. The council fought a federal mandate all the way to Washington and lost, he said. But they were forced only to rescind the policy, not to return funding.
Josh Sonnenfeld, who led the Youth Alliance effort, said he was worried when Pagano announced the legal opposition Wednesday, and was a little surprised at the outcome. Some warned the Santa Cruz High senior to back off the “opt- in” clause, he said.
“I decided to take it all the way and see how far I could get,” Sonnenfeld said. “It turned out well.”
Contact Donna Jones at djones (at)


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Josh Sonnenfeld rules the wasteland!


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