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St. Paul Public Schools / Students ask district to rein in military recruiting

Good for the students! Good for the board for listening.

By Doug Belden

On a night when President Bush renewed his call for more troops in Iraq, dozens of people packed a St. Paul school board meeting to talk about military recruitment in high schools.

The board wound up taking no action other than to request more information from school district staff. Nevertheless, the issue consumed 2 hours and required a move from the small room that is usually used for committee meetings to the board's larger regular meeting space.

The issue surfaced last month when students at Central High School asked the board to enact measures to limit military recruitment on school grounds.

The students part of a group called Youth Against War and Racism were back Tuesday with requests that recruiter visits be more closely supervised, confined to the career center rather than the cafeteria, scheduled in advance and no more frequent than visits from colleges or other post-secondary programs.

They also want the district to provide a specific procedure for minors to opt out of having their address and telephone numbers shared with military recruiters. The law requires such information to be shared with the military unless parents and students choose to keep the information from recruiters.

Currently, St. Paul's form for opting out of sharing such data requires a signature from parents or guardians. The board voted 6-1 to have staff explore ways to give minors themselves a way to opt out. They also will examine other possible changes to the process. Board member Tom Conlon voted against the measure, saying the board was micromanaging schools.

The board voted unanimously to also have staff survey secondary school administrators about how access to schools by military recruiters and other post-secondary programs might be more balanced.

Central Principal Mary Mackbee said access is equal right now, but the military chooses to set up outside the cafeteria while most colleges prefer to take appointments in the career center. "Nobody's being denied access," she said.

The Central students said no college has come to the school as often this school year as military recruiters.

That's not the military's fault, said Army Sgt. First Class Tony Martineau. "Colleges show up as often as they want to come," he said. "We operate within the framework we are given."

Martineau said the Army and Army Reserve recruit about 70 to 80 high school seniors each year in St. Paul public schools. That number has been fairly stable for the past several years, he said, except for a temporary bump after the attacks of Sept. 11.

Martineau was one of about a dozen speakers defending the current recruiting setup, many of them arguing that the military is simply providing information and options for students. About half that many people, mostly students, argued that the military enjoys an unfair advantage and needs to be restricted.

The board expects to have the requested information back from staff within a month.

Data compiled previously by the district show that as of this school year, 2,462 St. Paul students have opted not to have their personal information shared with the military. That's about 19 percent of the district's ninth- through 12th-graders.

The high school with the highest percentage of students opting out is Highland Park, with 29 percent, followed by Central with 26 percent. Central is the only St. Paul school where a student group has emerged to counter military recruitment efforts.

— Doug Belden
Pioneer Press


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