By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 28, 2007
The Army has asked Loudoun County public schools to distribute a survey to help identify students interested in the military, a proposal some parents contend would give the armed service an unfair recruiting edge over colleges and other career paths.
The brief survey, submitted to the School Board this spring by a Sterling-based recruiter, would ask students for contact information and whether they would like to learn more about the Army or Army Reserve.
Federal law requires public schools to provide contact information to the military for every high school junior and senior, unless parents choose to block the information. The law also calls for military recruiters to have the same access to students as college and career recruiters.
But some parents argue that the military, under pressure to sustain troop deployments in Iraq, is going too far in its quest to recruit students. Amid debate over the war, more parents across the country are asking school officials to clarify the federal law through local policies that create clear limits on military recruitment on campus.
Michelle Grise, a Leesburg mother, has formed a parents group to scrutinize school recruiting. She said the military should not get preferential treatment.
"We don't allow colleges and other businesses who are recruiting to come in and pass out these surveys," Grise said.
Her group wants to reduce the number of visits military recruiters can make to high school campuses and to confine their meetings to a career center. The group also seeks to have opt-out forms placed prominently in the student handbook. Currently, parents who wish to opt out must write a letter requesting that their children's names not be released to the military, following instructions on Page 23 of the handbook.
This year, 54 families have sent in letters requesting that their children's names be withheld from the military, and a few parents have called the schools with concerns about recruiting, said Loudoun schools spokesman Wayde B. Byard.
"This has not been a major concern that parents express," he said.
Parents in other parts of the Washington area have been more vocal about recruiting. In Montgomery County, parents have lobbied the school board to limit military recruiting activities and have achieved some changes. In Montgomery, opt-out forms are sent home in multiple languages. Some Prince George's County parents have raised concerns about military recruiting within the past year, but a spokesman for that school system said that the county does not have an opt-out form and that there have been no recent policy changes.
Fairfax and Arlington county schools have opt-out forms, and Arlington requires military recruiters to meet with students in the same location as other recruiters.
None of those school systems distributes surveys for the military, officials said. Matthew Fullerton, a spokesman for the Army's Baltimore Recruiting Battalion, said such surveys are not common.
Army Staff Sgt. Robert L. Trujillo, who proposed the four-question survey, wrote in a letter that he was asking the Loudoun school system for assistance.
"I understand that the Army is not for everyone and I have no desire to call your students [at] home time after time only to get an answering machine," Trujillo wrote. "This is not only time consuming, but it is also frustrating for everyone involved."
Trujillo was not allowed to answer a reporter's questions about the issue, another recruiter who answered the telephone at the Sterling office said.
In a legislative policy meeting in late April, School Board members said they would consider only a survey that covers all branches of the military. They invited the recruiter to submit to the board a "consensus proposal."
Board member Mark J. Nuzzaco (Catoctin) said that his priority is to comply with federal law and that he is not opposed to giving students the chance "to hear about career and educational opportunities that are available through military service."
Donald Eaves, a Loudoun parent, told the School Board that he would he like to see more resources devoted to teaching children about the "realities of war," including physical and psychological risks. He said that would help students "make an informed and responsible decision that will affect the rest of their lives."