The New York Civil Liberties Union today urged the Rochester City Board of Education to protect students’ privacy by retaining its policy of requiring parental permission to share high school students’ personal information with military recruiters.

The school board is considering reversing that policy, granting the military unfettered access to students’ personal contact information unless parents submit a form requesting that information be kept private. While current policy maintains a student’s privacy until the family makes its wishes known, the proposed change would assume that parents who do not submit a form want their children’s information released.

“Families shouldn’t have to submit a permission slip to have their privacy respected,” said Gary Pudup, director of the NYCLU’s Genesee Valley Chapter. “The proposed policy changes would result in nearly every student having their information turned over to recruiters, which could result in overly aggressive recruiting tactics, such as constant, harassing phone calls and recruiters showing up to students’ homes uninvited.”

The school board is scheduled to discuss the military recruitment policy at a meeting tomorrow. Last week, School District General Counsel Charles Johnson advised the school board that the current policy conflicts with the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Johnson also informed the school board that the district was contacted by a U.S. Marines official, who warned that maintaining the current policy could cost the school district federal education funding.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Johnson, each school board member and Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard, the NYCLU explained that the current policy complies with federal law. NCLB requires school districts to provide a list of students’ contact information to military recruiters upon request. It also instructs school districts to implement a procedure by which students and parents can exercise their right to withhold that information from recruiters. The law is silent as to what type of procedure should be used to compile the list of contact information. Congress left it up to the schools to decide how best to do that.

The letter explained that the threat of monetary sanctions asserted by the Marines is unfounded. NCLB authorizes monetary penalties only against New York State, not individual school districts.

“The current policy not only protects students’ right to privacy, but it also helps the military recruiters work more efficiently,” said Pudup, who will address the school board on the issue tomorrow. “It provides them a list of students who are actually interested in serving in the military, sparing them the hassle of wasting time and energy engaging students who don’t aspire to military service.”

Dr. William Cala, former Rochester superintendent, instituted a method similar to Rochester’s current policy when he was superintendent of the Fairport School District. The military sent Cala a letter thanking him for his cooperation in delivering the names of nearly 200 students, acknowledging the method’s effectiveness.