Monday, September 12, 2005

Day One: Opt-Out

by: josh sonnenfeld

She was expectant any day now. Most would think that she would be relaxing at home, pampered by all her loved ones who were waiting for the latest member of their family. Yet she was hardly relaxing, and she sure as hell wasn’t being pampered. Pam Sexton, a local teacher, and a new mother to-be in a matter of days, was frantically making phone calls, confirming speakers, talking with the press, and doing everything else that needed to be done for the upcoming school board meeting. Pam was organizing the first ever opt-out campaign in Watsonville, CA – a city at the center of Central California’s farming industry that trucks Strawberries, Lettuce, Artichokes, and other fresh produce around the nation. The region is predominately Latino, with a large number of hardworking migrant families. After hearing from concerned parents and community leaders, the region was also the latest to take a stand to protect student and family privacy in the face of aggressive military recruitment.

As the school year begins, Pam’s efforts are already being seen – and in a big way. Her campaign was focused on placing the opt-out notification – the information that tells parents and students that they can ‘opt-out’ of having their information sent out to military recruiters – prominently placed on the required student emergency card. In previous years, this notification, as with most school districts nation-wide, was never put in a place where parents and students would actually see it. Many parents never realize their kids’ information is being given out until a recruiter shows up at their door or calls during dinner-time asking to speak to their children. After calling their school district, they find out that the opt-out notification was tucked inside a 100+ page student handbook that no one ever reads, or was sent home in a huge packet of registration papers, entitled “release of directory information,” maybe never even mentioning the word ‘military.’ The one form that parents have learned to always look for is the student emergency card, which is required to be filled out for the beginning of the school year. By placing the opt-out check-box on the student emergency card, Pam’s efforts have drastically increased the likelihood that parents will see, and use, their ability to opt-out. In fact, a recent article in Watsonville’s local paper has shown huge increases in the local rates of opting out. At one high school, 63% of families have opted out so far, compared with 16% last year, while at another, results are “way up,” and at a third, in a nearby school district that also placed the opt-out on the emergency card due to community concern, an assistant in the front office noted that it’s “almost to the point where [she is] just automatically check[ing] the opt-out box” in the electronic database. At two of these three high schools, former students have died fighting in Iraq.

And Pam isn’t the only one. Hundreds of parents, especially moms, and others nation-wide have been calling up their school districts, filling school board meetings, and setting up tables outside of their schools to ensure that parents and students are aware of their right to opt-out. Many of these parents have found that their school districts not only have poor notification procedures (if they have any at all), but that the districts penalize students and parents for their choice to opt-out. Under many of these ‘blanket opt-out’ policies, parents and students are unable to opt-out of having their information released to military recruiters without the district refusing to give the students’ information to colleges, allow the child’s name to be put on the honor roll, or sometimes to even be in the high school yearbook. Far too many parents have sent in opt-out forms that they downloaded from websites such as only to find out that their districts have ‘blanket opt-out’ policies and their child would be penalized for their choice. Some of these parents are forced to reverse their opt-out decision, but a good many others choose to call up the district and complain or grab a few others parents and speak out at a school board meeting. Because they chose to take an extra step, these parents have been surprisingly successful – in fact, Leave My Child Alone (the national opt-out campaign founded by Working Assets, Mainstreet Moms, and ACORN) has received dozens of testimonials from parents, especially moms, who, due to a couple phone calls, have gotten their school districts to dump their ‘blanket opt-out’ policies and/or send out opt-out forms for the first time ever.

Many of these moms have never done any sort of political organizing before - they’re just concerned about their kids and want to help other parents in their towns to have the freedom to make important decisions affecting their children’s future. For these parents it doesn’t matter whether they’re in a red state or a blue state, but whether their school districts will meet their responsibility to inform parents and students of their right to privacy. The question isn’t so much about whether parents or students should opt-out of having their information released to military recruiters, but whether or not school districts will properly notify them of their right to make that choice. And as Pam shows us, “given the choice, people will choose not to have their information sent to the military.”



At 7:54 AM, Blogger NeoconKRAM said...

Mark Lewis

Colorado Springs will hold a Leave My Child Alone Orientation in Gaylord Hall, on the Colorado College campus on Tuesday, September 13 at 6:30 pm. An 11 minute film will be shown and a planning, training, brainstorm session will follow. The task of the meeting is how to most effectively get high school seniors to opt out of the No Child Left Behind provision 9528, that gives their personal information to military recruiters.

The orientation is organized by Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission (, Citizen's for Peace in Space, and Springs Action Alliance (, in concert with national groups like Leave My Child Alone, and The Network Opposed to the Militarization of Youth.

Refreshments, documents, posters, websites, and other information will be provided. School Board and PTA attendance will be planned, letters to superintendents will be written, and resolutions to school boards will be finalized.

Dennis Apuan, director of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission said (, "In many school districts, students' names, addresses and phone numbers are given to the military recruiters without first obtaining the student's permission. Then the recruiters bother them with many uninvited phone calls at home."

"This issue is about family privacy, as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Students and parents should demand that their school not give out their contact information without permission! We must stop the military's invasion of student privacy", Mr. Apuan said.

"Schools should be teaching peacemaking and mediation skills, instead of promoting militarism and glamorizing violent responses to conflict."

The film, created by Main Street Moms, and featuring Cindy Sheehan of Gold Stars Families for Peace (, who organized a month long protest outside President Bush's ranch this summer, lasts 11 minutes and will be shown at 7pm.

Mark Lewis, Of the Springs Action Alliance ( said, "Recruiters target the socio-economically challenged and tell them they will get $70,000 for college under the GI Bill, but 43% never receive a penny and 92% get less than the full benefit the recruiters promise. On top of that they have to pay $1,200 annual fee for the enrollment, and it's not refundable!"

"25,000 families of service personnel are eligible for food stamps. I think that's not only in insult to those willing to risk their lives for our country, but proves the fact that the military is targeting at risk people of color and lower socio-economic background!"

Mr. Lewis publishes the full list of facts, documentation and forms on his website, and covers the ongoing counter recruitment movement in the group's daily news.

"I don't think the recruiter that was tape recorded in Golden, Colorado providing a student with a diploma mill to buy a fake GED for $200 is an isolated incident. That recruiter is on tape promising a falsified drug test to the student. I don't know about you, but I don't want that person in a fox hole with my daughter, and high as a kite, because some recruiter sold her safety out for some recruitment quota", Mr.Lewis said.

A petition in support of House Resolution 551 that would make the No Child Left Behind law an OPT IN law, will be available for signing. along with a petition to stop the Pentagon from compiling a database of 30 million high school students.


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