Limits on military recruiting proposed: Bill would protect teens’ personal info

A federal bill that shields high school students from military recruiters is gaining both local and national support.

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, introduced the bill, called the Student Privacy Protection Act of 2005, last month in the House of Representatives.

"While I support the right of the armed services to recruit high school students, I don’t believe successful military recruitment efforts require access to students’ personal information without their consent," Honda said. "The right to divulge or not divulge personal information about minors should remain with the students and their parents."

The bill amends the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, which requires schools receiving federal money to release student contact information to recruiters.

Honda said the current system contains no defined process for opting out, for either parents or schools. He said an "opt-in" system would be consistent with other privacy statutes now in use.

Those comments are not lost on Santa Cruz education officials.

Santa Cruz City Schools attempted to defend its students from military recruiters in 2003, but backed away after the federal government threatened it would strip $3.6 million in funding.

The district’s school board approved a plan in March 2003 that would require schools to obtain parental permission before releasing student names and phone numbers to recruiters. It also required schools to give students facts that could help them make decisions about enlistment.

Some parents and students at the time thought it more appropriate to have an "opt in" area on school forms, rather than only the "opt out" system that currently exists.

No other county district took such action. All districts allow military recruiters on high school campuses.

After six months of fighting with the Department of Defense, the district decided to provide the information to recruiters without changes to procedure.

"I don’t think it has much legs, but I also think it’s important for parents to have these rights," said John Collins, president of the Santa Cruz City Schools board. "Parents have the right to op-out of sex education. I think this is the same principle."

U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, told Honda last week that he would co-sponsor the bill. He said he’s worried that it won’t be called for a vote on its own, saying it might be attached to other legislation.

"By introducing this bill, Rep. Honda is taking a critical step in gathering support for this provision in the lead-up to the debate over reauthorization of No Child Left Behind in 2006," Farr said. "Unfortunately, the majority leadership in the House has not indicated that the Student Privacy Protection Act is a priority for them."

Honda may look for a larger bill that he can attach this provision to later in the cycle and gain momentum that way, Farr said.

Honda said he wants to make sure students and parents know what they’re getting into when high schoolers enlist in the military.

"I want to ensure that students are willing recipients of the military recruiting efforts," Honda said. "Let students and their families choose who they want soliciting them in the mail and on the phone during dinner."

Contact Jeff Tobin at
By JEFF TOBIN Sentinel Staff Writer

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