by jennifer przydzial
Eight people raised concerns at the July 11 school board meeting about contact information the school system gives recruiters and about the presence of recruiters in schools.
"We need to do something to keep our children's information private," said Elsie Davis, a records clerk at Towson High School and a parent.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, high schools must provide military recruiters with students' names, addresses and phone numbers. However, an "opt-out" provision entitles parents to have their child's name deleted from the lists given recruiters.
Meanwhile, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act requires school systems to notify parents to which organizations directory information - names, addresses and phone numbers - is being given out and how parents may request that the information not be provided.
Both laws say that a single notice of these rights, either in a mailing or in a student handbook, is sufficient.
County schools alert parents of their opt-out rights on pages 5 and 6 of the student handbook.
The handbook states that a parent must submit the request in writing to a child's principal no later than Oct. 1 of each school year or, if the student enrolls in the middle of the school year, no later than 30 days after enrollment.
Davis, who said she considers herself a "pretty informed parent," said she didn't know about the provision in the No Child Left Behind law until she was asked to give the list of juniors' contact information to military recruiters as part of her job at Towson High.
"I was quite shocked they were allowed to get this information," she said.
Davis said 15 parents have chosen the opt-out option at Towson High, although she said she believes that number would be higher if the policy were mailed to parents or attached to students' emergency contact cards.
Schools spokesman Charles Herndon said he didn't know if the system keeps statistics of how many parents have asked to have their child's name deleted from the lists given recruiters.
Parents said at the meeting that not every parent reads the student handbook and may, therefore, be unaware of the policy.
According to Dale Rauenzahn, executive director of student support services, only 30 percent of high school students return a form provided at the beginning of the school year saying a parent has read the handbook.
"I am distressed that such a small number of parents are reading the handbook," school board member John Hayden said. "We may need to explore other ways to encourage parents to read the handbook in its entirety."
Recruiters inside schools
Several people also questioned the amount of time military recruiters spend in schools.
Suzy Filbert, a speech pathologist at five county schools and an organizer of parents at the meeting, said she frequently sees recruiters in the schools where she works. She declined to name the schools.
She said the recruiters hang out in cafeterias and in parking lots and "have easy access into the building."
Herndon said military recruiters are treated the same way as any individual who comes into the school. All must sign in and adhere to each school's guest policy, he said.
Sgt. Don Parker, a recruiter for the Army National Guard, said most of the high schools he has visited have strict guidelines.
"When we are in the cafeteria, we can't talk to them unless they (the students) approach us," said Parker, who recruits in the Catonsville and Arbutus areas.
According to No Child Left Behind, schools must provide students with the same access to military recruiters as they do for others offering educational and professional career opportunities.
But, Filbert said, recruiters "are pulling kids out of class a lot and inundating them with marketing materials."
Parker said that's not the case with the Army National Guard, which, he said, recognizes that a student's education comes first.
The Army National Guard concentrates on high school juniors, he said, but added that high school students make up only one-third of the guard's recruiting market.
Filbert raised the issue of students signing enlistment contracts at school, especially students with reading disabilities that might hinder them from fully understanding what they are signing.
Parker said a child younger than 18 must have parental consent to enlist.
Most times, he said, he gives the literature to students in school and, if the student is interested, he will set up home visits with the parents.
'A big decision'
"It is a big decision," Parker said. "We like everyone to be well informed."
James Baldridge, a Vietnam veteran whose son graduated from Parkville High School, said many students are drawn to the armed forces because they advertise job assistance or money for college. He said that is not always the case.
Parker said he is always careful to let the students know that they are "eligible" for benefits, which include money for college, but are not guaranteed the benefits.
"We need to tell them that there are other ways to get money for college," Baldridge said. "They don't have to go to war. They don't have to have be recruited."