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Parents Want Military Recruiting Limits

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Montgomery County parents are asking the county school board to consider new rules that would forbid military recruiters to set up tables at school cafeterias, in hallways or at sporting events.

On Monday night, parents presented board members with a list of proposals. They include barring military recruitment vehicles such as the Army Adventure Van, with its simulations and promotional materials, from high school campuses and allowing opponents of Army recruitment the same access to students as the military.

Particularly in Bethesda, Takoma Park and Silver Spring, resentment has been building over the longtime practice of recruiting soldiers at public schools. Last year, a group of parents and antiwar activists persuaded the county school system to change its rules so that parents could, for the first time, refuse to release personal information about a student to the military without blocking its release to colleges.

This year, activists are targeting a broader range of recruitment efforts -- at school events, in cafeterias and within the Junior ROTC. They say that the military has far greater access to students than college or career recruiters.

School system leaders say that all recruiters are bound by the same rules and that the military recruits more often and in more venues. Federal law requires that school systems provide military recruiters as much access to students as other recruiters as a condition for funding.

"They're there almost every day. It's a constant," said Kevin Zeese, director of Democracy Rising, a county-based group opposed to the war in Iraq.

How often military recruiters visit high schools is a matter of dispute. In a memo to school board President Nancy Navarro dated Monday, county Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said military recruiters generally visit high schools no more than once a month.

Pat Elder, a Bethesda parent who is a lead organizer against the recruiters, says he has heard that military visits are "a weekly event" at some schools.

Some school board members voiced concern over allowing military recruiters into cafeterias, where they have the student body more or less as a captive audience.

Shirley Brandman, school board vice president, asked Weast to provide information on which schools allow military recruiters in their cafeterias and which do not. Board member Christopher Barclay contrasted the military's tactics to the comparatively restrained demeanor of college recruiters.

"I'd love to see Harvard aggressively recruit my child in the school cafeteria," he said at the meeting Monday. "Unfortunately, that's not the way it goes."

Weast indicated that he would not support a change to countywide policy but instead would expect principals "to listen to our parents" and investigate reports of overly aggressive recruitment. School system spokesman Brian Edwards cited instances yesterday of military recruiters who had been barred from schools.

At least two high schools, Walt Whitman in Bethesda and Albert Einstein in Kensington, prohibit recruiters in their cafeterias, Elder said. The policy proposed by parents would limit all recruiters to career and college fairs, high school career centers and counseling offices.

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