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Austin students seek to limit military's recruiting access

Three cheers for these students who are taking the activist roles adults should have taken long ago.

Youth group working with local activists to set rules on where contact can take place.

By Raven L. Hill

Garza High School senior Will Martin does not have a problem with students who want to join the military.

But he does think there should be limits on recruiters' access to students.

Martin and a small group of about a dozen other students in the Austin school district are working with two local groups, Nonmilitary Options for Youth and Youth Activists of Austin, in support of a proposed districtwide policy on recruiting tactics.

"We're not trying to take away the option of joining the military, but I do feel that students should be educated about decisions before they join," Martin said.

Recruiters' access to students has become a contentious issue, particularly as the U.S. military's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan continues and the government falls short of its recruitment goals. Though significant support remains for the military's efforts overseas, a small but growing number of Austin parents and students are voicing their displeasure about recruiter tactics they say are aggressive.

Public high schools must provide the military with students' contact information unless parents request otherwise in writing under the federal No Child Left Behind law. And recruiters often have broad access to students at school.

Throughout Central Texas, principals have discretion in granting access to school grounds. They decide whether recruiters are limited to specific areas of the school, such as counselor offices, or whether they can approach students in the hallways during lunch. They decide whether recruiters are limited to certain times of the year, such as college and career events, or whether they can make monthly trips to the school.

In San Marcos, for example, recruiters are allowed to take students off campus for lunch with parental consent.

Nonmilitary Options for Youth and Youth Activists of Austin have submitted proposals to Austin district officials that call for limiting recruiters to campus career centers, prohibiting them from bringing military hardware into schools and ensuring that counselors are informed about procedures for release from military contracts.

They also would like to make sure that parents are aware of the opt-out provision in the federal law that requires schools to share student contact information. The district's current policy is "all or nothing": Parents cannot specify which organizations they want to have their child's information.

The inconsistencies across campuses are troublesome, Martin said, adding that in some instances, military recruiters have more access to students than colleges or local companies.

"We think the military should have the same access as other recruiters," he said. "They shouldn't have the special right to roam the halls when other recruiters don't."

The groups' proposals are based on policies in other school systems across the country.

In Madison, Wis., recruiters are allowed in high schools only three days a year, and guidance counselors must provide information about alternatives to military service. The Tucson, Ariz., district requires students to initiate appointments with recruiters. Students in Princeton, N.J., can meet with recruiters only if a guidance counselor is present.

Lt. Col. Ronald McLaurin, commander of the Texas Army National Guard Recruiting Battalion, said that it has been difficult to recruit in some schools but that administrators have been mostly supportive.

"I can empathize with the position that principals are put in," McLaurin said. "No school has ever said flat out 'no' to us. We appreciate the access we get."

San Marcos officials — and those in some other area school districts —say they have not heard complaints about military access at their schools.

Austin district officials are exploring changes for next year that would make it clearer to parents that they have the option to withhold information and that would allow parents to specifically opt out of giving the military information, said Mel Waxler, the school district's attorney.

Waxler said that he has never received a complaint from a parent about unauthorized access from military recruiters and that the district tries to provide groups with equal access.

"If the military has a brochure that is featured in one part of the campus, then Nonmilitary Options for Youth would have the same access and same right," Waxler said. "If there are career days and the military has one of the booths, then Nonmilitary Options for Youth has a booth."

McLaurin said he would offer an alternative perspective to those seeking to limit access.

"If access to National Guard recruiters is limited, you are limiting the opportunity for some students to have a great way of life and to be part of something bigger than themselves," he said. "You are limiting opportunities for citizens to serve their communities."

rhill@statesman.com; 445-3620.

Additional material from staff writer Whitney Becker.




— Raven L. Hill
Austin American-Statesman
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/01/30military.html


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