VERMONT - The U.S. Marines promote themselves as "the few, the proud." But starting this fall, the Marines - as well as the Army, Navy and Air Force - could find themselves with even fewer recruits coming from the ranks of Vermont's public schools.
That's because a new state law now requires all Vermont public schools to notify parents of their right to opt out of military sales pitches to their children. Act 127, which was signed by Governor Jim Douglas in May, clarifies some of the mandates under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. That law, which was enacted in 2002, requires any school that receives federal funding to turn over its students' names, addresses and phone numbers to local military recruiters. Schools that fail to do so run the risk of losing their federal funding.
However, No Child Left Behind also includes a provision that allows parents to request that their children's names not be released to the military without their written permission. In the past, Vermont school districts have interpreted the federal provision in different ways. Some schools have allowed parents to remove their kids' names just from the list sent to military recruiters. Others have told parents that if their children opt out of military recruitment, in effect, they're declining all recruitment opportunities, including those sent by colleges and universities, scholarship funds, class ring companies and yearbook publishers.
"Schools do this in very different ways," explains Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont American Civil Liberties Union, which lobbied for the bill's passage. "Some schools' databases are really crude in how they spit out students' information, and others are really sophisticated. That was part of the problem."
Act 127 clarifies students' and parents' privacy protections by requiring schools to notify parents every year about their right to selectively remove their children's names from the list sent to recruiters for the military, but not others. School districts will begin mailing out those notices to parents in the next few weeks, along with other back-to-school bulletins, according to the Vermont Department of Education. Currently, the department doesn't track how many parents or students have already said no to military recruiters.
The law doesn't include a deadline - parents can send a letter to their school principal or headmaster at any time requesting that their children's names be taken off the list. According to the Vermont Superintendents Association, that letter should remain in effect for as long as the student is at the school or the school is notified otherwise.
That said, there are other ways for recruiters to obtain students' contact info - with or without their parents' permission. For example, schools throughout Vermont offer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a voluntary standardized test designed to help students explore their career potentials. Created by the U.S. Department of Defense, the test is offered to schools at no charge, and is often administered by military recruiters. Last year, 340 students in 23 of Vermont's 66 high schools took the test, according to the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command in Illinois.
Not everyone who takes the test intends to enlist. Bob Johnson, a former principal at the K-12 Danville School and now interim executive director of the Vermont Principals Association, says that many guidance counselors in the Northeast Kingdom recommend the ASVAB as a way to help students identify promising career paths.
But students who take the ASVAB automatically get their names entered into a national database of potential military recruits. That database, which is maintained by the Pentagon's Joint Advertising and Market Research Studies (JAMRS), contains information on millions of Americans between the ages of 16 and 25. Students can opt out of JAMRS as well, but their names and personal data will still be maintained in "suppression files" that could be used later, according to the nonprofit privacy group Liberty Coalition.