By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
A group of Montgomery County parents and peace activists will use back-to-school nights to hand out forms that allow parents to block information about their children from being released to military recruiters.
The opt-out forms are distributed to all of Montgomery's 139,000 students at the beginning of the school year. But Pat Elder, a parent at Walt Whitman High School, said he and others want to be sure families know their options when it comes to controlling who has access to their children's personal information.
"People get so much information at the beginning of the year that we want to make sure this doesn't get lost in the crush," he said.
Elder was one of several parents who successfully lobbied the school system last year to revise student privacy forms to give parents a choice of who would be allowed access to students' personal information. A parent can prevent the information from being released to military recruiters but give colleges access to phone numbers and addresses.
The previous form gave parents two options: to allow the release of all of their children's information or none.
Military recruiters have been allowed to visit high school campuses for decades, but their presence has drawn more scrutiny in recent years largely because of the war in Iraq.
When reports surfaced that a little-known provision of the federal No Child Left Behind law required schools to release student information to the military or risk losing federal funding, several prominent groups, including the National PTA, launched campaigns to let parents know they could block school systems from releasing the information. No school has lost funding for refusing to turn over information.
Laura Steinberg, director of the Department of Reporting and Regulatory Accountability for Montgomery County Public Schools, said the system is working to ensure that parents are aware of their options. This year, the opt-out forms were included in back-to-school packets, posted on the system's Web site and printed in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and French.
Several families have chosen to restrict the release of information to the military, Steinberg said, but a total was not available.