More than 90 percent of parents whose children attend Montclair High School opted out of releasing their children’s biographical information to military recruiters.
Initially, many parents didn’t know their children’s records were being released or that they could prevent it from happening, until a student-led activist organization at the high school stepped forward.
”I had no knowledge of this,” said Andrea Cherry, mother of Alissa Cherry, a member of the student activist organization Oye Oye [Hear, Hear]. “When she told me about it, I wasn’t happy. I really think that we should have the right to choose where our kids information goes, whether it goes to colleges or the military. As parents we should have the right, and so should our children.
Alissa and many other members of Oye Oye (Open Your Eyes, Open Your Ears) researched the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and discovered a provision that requires public high schools release student contact information, including addresses, ages and phone numbers, to branches of the military. If a school does not distribute the information, then it would lose all federal funding. Congress passed the provision in 2001.
”When I found out about it, I was confused as to why no one had heard about it,” said Elizabeth Lipshultz, another member of Oye Oye. I want my information to go out to colleges, but I don’t want it to go out to the military.
”After more research, the organization found another provision in NCLB that allows parents to opt out of releasing contact information to military recruiters,” Lipshultz said.
That’s when Oye Oye launched its two-year campaign to inform high school students and their parents of the NCLB’s requirement that schools must provide student contact information to military recruiters unless parents oppose releasing this information.
The group created a notification policy to protect students’ privacy, which was approved by the Montclair Board of Education in 2003. The high school distributed forms that asked parents whether they wanted their children’s records to be released to the military or to colleges. According to the board policy, MHS students must return the forms to register for the next semester’s classes.
”It wouldn’t surprise me if [schools] just started sending out forms to parents,” said Richard Vespucci, New Jersey Department of Education spokesman. “Schools districts are just now coming to grips of the full extent of No Child Left Behind.”
Of MHS’s 1,937 students, 91 percent returned the forms. About 92 percent of the families that returned the forms indicated that they did not want their children’s information released to the military.
Members of Oye Oye believe that most parents would have never known their children’s information was being released to military recruiters if it weren’t for the new policy. Before the policy was created, only 33 percent of parents at the high school opted out.
”It’s really important that people notice that there has been a huge difference [among parents who have opted out] now that people have found out that this is going on,” said Devra Snow, another member of Oye Oye.
Lipshultz said Montclair High School released records to the military for at least a year before Oye Oye’s involvement.
According to Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Richard, many schools have responded well to the NCLB requirements, and Montclair’s policy is uncommon.
Generally speaking, [92 percent of parents opting-out] would appear to be a reasonably high number and a rare exception,” said Richard.
At Columbia High School in the South Orange/Maplewood School District, 785 of 2,100 families opted out of releasing their child’s biographical information to the military. But in other towns, such as Elizabeth, only one family opted out.
Vespucci said the state Department of Education does not collect data as to how many parents have opted out of releasing their child’s records to military recruiters.
But Oye Oye members believe their policy could make national headway. Recently, Lipshultz attended a United for Peace and Justice conference in New York where five students from New Jersey pledged to take Oye Oye’s policy to their respective boards of education.
Richard said that although some schools might take Montclair High School’s lead, it would not be detrimental to military recruitment.
”Recruiting is a very competitive market. We have to use a variety of tools, and the ability to contact high school students is important, but again, it is only one aspect of recruiting,” Richard said. “It does assist, but it will not impact recruitment dramatically. Those students who want to get information [about joining the military] will get it if they want.”