Changing Recruitment Policies in Schools: One Phone Call and Email at a Time

Kate Connell -

Kate ConnellIn the spring of 2014, I went to observe a career day at Santa Barbara High School, where my son is enrolled. There were a variety of organizations with representatives and literature tables. The Marines and the Navy recruiters were also there. They were soliciting student contact information. The Marine’s “survey” form included questions such as, “Did you know that the Marine Corps has a $150,000 scholarship?” and “Did you know that the qualifications for the Marine Corps are higher than the standards of UC Santa Barbara?” I told them that under the school’s existing recruiting protocol they were not allowed to get student information directly from students, and that they had to go through the Santa Barbara Unified School District office.


I turned around and saw the school's career counselor and approached him, reminding him about the school's recruiter protocol. He didn’t recall that part of the protocol and said he would talk to the military recruiters about it. I asked, “What about the information they have already gathered from students?” I went back to the Marine recruiters and repeated that they were not allowed to solicit student information. I picked up the surveys they had collected and said that I was going to tear them up and throw them out. They consented, so I ripped them up.


I went to the Navy recruiters’ table and told them the same thing. They had a binder with the protocol in it and looked it up. The Navy recruiter said, "That's correct, here it is, in 'G.'" (G. Recruiters visiting schools shall not at any time solicit contact information directly from students or require it as a condition to participate in an activity or receive an award or gift.) I said, "I am going to take this sign-up sheet and tear it up," holding it up for them to see, and they also said ok.


I discussed the situation more with the career counselor and his staff person. I told them that parents have complained that even though they had signed the district opt-out form (to bar release of student directory information to college and/or military recruiters), their children still received mailers and/or calls from the military. Solicitation of information from students at events like this and at other military recruiter visits was probably why.


I am a mother of two children: my son is a senior at Santa Barbara High School and my daughter an 8th grader at Santa Barbara Junior High School. I am also a member of the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers. I have long been concerned about the frequent presence of military recruiters on high school campuses.


For many years I have worked for what I call Truth in Recruitment, along with students, schools and community groups, including War Resisters League, Veterans for Peace, Project on Youth and Non-military Opportunities (Project YANO), Sustainable Options for Youth and Friends Meetings


My work with the Santa Barbara Unified School District in California began when a friend of my son contacted the local chapter of Veterans for Peace. He was concerned about the frequent visits by military recruiters on campus and requested that Veterans for Peace provide an alternative presence. Around the same time, my son told me that he had challenged a Marine who was a speaker in his Freshman Seminar class (meant to help students plan their futures and possible careers).


At first I congratulated him for confronting this person of authority, but then I did a double take at the fact that a military recruiter had been invited to his class to talk about career opportunities. I contacted his teacher, who replied that the sergeant was not there as a recruiter and that she had not selected him as a speaker. I widened the circle of correspondence to include the principal, assistant principals and counselors. The assistant principal also said that she did not select the class speakers. After another parent and I met with her, she agreed to have the military removed from the speaker list for Freshman Seminar classes.


Still frustrated by the lack of action on the school’s part to provide alternative viewpoints, a small group and I met with the administration to discuss both the recruiter on-campus visitation policy and the necessity to provide alternative viewpoints. The principal eventually agreed to expedite our request to have a display of tombstones representing the 398 18- and 19-year-olds killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Students, veterans, Friends and community members set up the display and read the names of the dead at Santa Barbara High School during Memorial Day week of 2012. The local TV station interviewed both students and members of Veterans for Peace. A similar display was assembled at the high school during the week of Veterans Day and on the next Memorial Day.


Over the following summer, another group of students and community members met with the assistant superintendent of secondary schools (the district has three traditional high schools) to discuss the district recruiter policy, as well as the text for the opt-out form, which enables students and families to block the release of information to recruiters. At the suggestion of the Santa Barbara High School principal, a group of us began drafting a districtwide, detailed policy regarding recruiter access to our youth, which would provide guidelines to navigate the various issues set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Under this law, federal funding for K-12 schools is only available to those institutions that give military recruiters the same school access that is given to recruiters for colleges and civilian employers. Most schools have interpreted this to mean that the military must be given unlimited access to high school campuses. In actuality, they can enact policies that regulate and limit the amount and kind of access that recruiters can have, as long as the same policies apply to all of the recruiter categories.


As we worked on the Santa Barbara policy, we felt that it was important to reach out to the wider community and bring more people into the discussion. We decided to organize an educational forum – “Military Recruiters on our High School Campuses – Why?” — which took place on March 15, 2014, with a panel of counter-recruitment advocates, veterans, and military families. We reached out to the press and invited school board members, administrators, teachers, students, families, and veterans. Two weeks later, there was a follow-up meeting with attendees of the forum to discuss how it went and to draft a policy based on San Diego Unified School District’s recruiting policy.


In April we met with two school board members and presented a draft policy. The board members were enthusiastic, suggesting that it could come before the board as early as the summer and be passed before the 2014 school year started!


In July the board president forgot to notify me that the policy would be on that month’s agenda. I discovered it the day before the meeting, giving me little time to encourage people to attend. Also, I learned that the proposed ‘policy’ was just a one-page summary and lacked critical details.


But sometimes all that is needed is a little preparation and a few willing people to show up. The Santa Barbara Friends Meeting Peace committee was able to review the policy and discuss what position to take. I decided to ask the board to keep working on the policy since it was a “conference agenda item,” not an “action item” — meaning it would not come up for a vote that night.


At the school board meeting, the board president noted our public comments about the incompleteness of the proposed policy. She projected the original draft policy we had sent her so that all in the room could review it. Each board member and the superintendent offered concerns about various details in our policy. The board asked the superintendent to bring it back to the principals for their edits and additions before holding a vote at a later date. The next day I sent an email to the board members and superintendent addressing what I saw as their primary concerns.


After the school year began, I sent an email to the board asking for an update on the policy’s status. The board president notified me that it would be an action item on the October agenda. This time we had a couple weeks’ notice and so were able to get more people to come and give public comments. Usually there is a 2- to 3-minute time limit for each person to make public comments on agenda items. We needed enough speakers to address multiple parts of the policy.


Although much closer to the original draft, the revised policy was still flawed, with vague definitions, redundant additions, and vagueness on enforcement of the regulations. Ten people gave public comment — educators, veterans, students, parents — and as many more came in support of the policy. The policy passed unanimously with one change, which clarified the definition of a recruiter, as well as a plan by the board to create a Memo of Understanding regarding campus access for Santa Barbara City College and the University of California at Santa Barbara. Needless to say, we were all relieved that the policy had passed, despite shortcomings, so that we could move on to make sure the policy was enforced and to provide alternative points of view about the military in our schools.


Some have questioned why we organized to craft a district policy regulating recruiter access to our campuses. Part of education is to think critically and pose questions. The military presence on school campuses is a complex and controversial issue, and students and parents must be involved to make long-lasting changes. So to pose another question: who are our schools in service of — students or recruiters? A goal of recruitment, like advertising, is to make a sale. Sometimes selling involves leaving out information or exaggerating the facts. It is the responsibility of our schools to make sure that students have accurate information to make informed choices and to shield them from overexposure to recruiters.


What has been important for me in working for the demilitarization of schools is the building of relationships with administrators, school board members, students, veterans, teachers, families and community members. If anyone feels that they have been dismissed as part of the process, they are not going to feel engaged in enforcing a policy that treats students and families fairly. The point for me in pushing for alternatives to a military dominant culture is not to win an argument, defend my position, or to make a point. My intent has been to be of service to the community that educates our youth. Having positive exchanges and nurturing long-term relationships is integral to bringing forth the truth about recruitment in schools. We accomplished a great deal with establishing protocols at the local high schools and then passing the districtwide school policy. We now have a grassroots base for further work in providing alternative views to youth and families. It is possible that we can broaden our base to include more youth and a diverse spectrum of voices in this struggle.


This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/).

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