Families of students who
feel dogged by military back
SACRAMENTO -- It was in the
spring of 2004 when Darinel Reyes,
then a senior at Watsonville High
School, got a phone call at his home
from a military recruiter.
He politely told them he wasn't interested
in joining the service, but in the
following weeks and months, he kept getting
calls and even a letter in the mail from
the Army urging him to reconsider. He felt
so pressured that he asked his mother if
they could move back to their hometown of
Morelia in the Mexican state of Michoacan
so he wouldn't have to enlist in the U.S.
military, said Reyes, now 20.
"I felt like they were going to force me to
join," he said.
What also surprised Reyes was that the
recruiter had his home address and phone
number. Reyes and his mother didn't realize
that his school was releasing contact
information for all juniors and seniors to
military recruiters under a requirement of
the No Child Left Behind Act in order to
receive federal funding.
The incident is at the heart of a bill
working its way through the California state Assembly.
Under AB1778, school districts would be
required to notify parents or legal
guardians that they have the right to opt
out of the student lists sent to military
recruiters. The legislation also would add
an opt-out request to students' emergency
Supporters of the legislation argue that
many schools don't do an adequate job of
notifying parents of that option now. They
also charge that with military recruiters
having more difficulty meeting their goals
in recent years, parents need to be aware
that their children can be targets of
heavy-handed recruiting attempts.
Marine Corps Maj. Mike Samarov, in charge
of recruiting in the San Francisco Bay
Area, said the multiple calls could be
coming from different branches of the
"Each of the four branches, along with the
National Guard and the reserves, each have
recruiting services, and we are quite
separate," he said.
Samarov said his office does make cold
calls to prospective recruits, but he
added, "We do it in a measured and
"And if someone asks not to be called, we
don't," he said.
Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain
View, author of the bill, said that in many
instances, notice to parents about removing
their children's contact information is
buried inside a thick student handbook.
"In my school district, the opt-out form is
page 53 out of 58 pages of disclosure," she
Another concern is that once military
recruiters get a student's information,
they can be aggressive in going after
potential recruits, she said.
"It's really become a problem for a lot of
families, with military recruiters calling
at all hours. ... In many cases, these are
unwanted contacts," Lieber said. "The
military is not willing to take no for an
Convincing young people to enlist has been
a tough sell in recent years, especially
for the Army.
In fact, the Army reported in September
that its recruitment fell more than 6,600
short of its annual goal of 80,000, the
first shortfall since 1999 and the largest
in 26 years. The Army has met its monthly
goals since then, but the numbers lag
behind last year's figures in the same
But critics of the bill say military
recruiters shouldn't be singled out and
that any change in the school policy should
equally affect other types of recruiters,
such as colleges and employers.
"If the parents and school districts feel
that they need to protect the privacy of
families, fine, but the implication is that
there's something wrong with the military,
and that's not right," said Bill Manes,
legislative officer of the California State
Commanders Veterans Council. "You give
(military recruiters) an even playing
field. That's all we're asking."
To address that argument, the bill was
amended Thursday to require separate
opt-out check boxes in the student
emergency contact form for college as well
as military recruiters.
Assemblyman Robert Huff, R-Diamond Bar (Los
Angeles County), said Lieber's bill is
unnecessary because federal law already
requires schools to notify parents.
"I think it's a flawed legislation. I don't
think it's necessary. We don't need to
micromanage our schools," he said.
Huff, along with two other Republican
Assembly members, voted no in the Education
Committee, but the bill passed with seven
yes votes from Democrat lawmakers last
week. Next stop is the Assembly's Veterans
Affairs Committee, which is scheduled to
consider the legislation on Tuesday.
One parent of a high school student said
the bill is sorely needed because military
recruiters who have gained student contact
information have been much too aggressive.
"They've been calling for the last two
years," said Linda Cialeo, 51, of Rancho
Bernardo in north San Diego County.
Cialeo, whose 17-year-old son is a high
school senior, said that initially she
didn't know her son's high school was
releasing contact information to military
recruiters. In fact, she said, there was
only one opt-out check box that would
prevent the release of her son's contact
information to everyone, including
But her school district has changed its
forms this year to offer separate opt-out
options for student lists for various
groups such as colleges, employers and
military recruiters. In New Mexico, a lack
of information for parents was a point of
contention for the local chapter of the
American Civil Liberties Union, which filed
a lawsuit against the school district,
Albuquerque Public Schools.
"The opt-out provision was buried in the
student handbook, and unless the parent
knew about it and went out of the way to
look for it, they would pass right by it,"
said Peter Simonson, executive director of
The suit was settled in December when the
school district agreed to include the
opt-out form in the student registration
packet and to send out notices alerting
parents once every semester.
In previous years, about 100 to 200
students would opt out each year, but so
far this year, the number has increased to
more than 500, said Rigo Chavez, a
spokesman for the school district.
In California, some schools already have
included the request to opt out in the
student emergency contact form, and they
have seen drastic increases in such
For example, the number in Watsonville High
School rose from 90 in 2005 to more than
900 this year, said Josh Sonnenfeld, 20, of
Santa Cruz, a local activist who has been
lobbying at nearby school districts.
He said protection of privacy is his
biggest motivation for supporting AB1778.
"It exclusively has to do with high school
students and their families and their right
to privacy," he said. "The bill basically
says that we believe parents and students
have this choice to withhold personal
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