The New York Civil Liberties Union and dozens of high school students today joined lawmakers in calling on the Department of Education to delay enforcing a new policy that makes it easier than ever for the military to obtain the personal information of New York City children for recruitment purposes.
On Sept. 16, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein issued a policy directive to principals that streamlined the process for providing military recruiters the personal information of all 11th and 12th grade students at the city's public high schools. The policy changes were made unilaterally and without any public input, despite the enormous implications to children's privacy. Under the new policy, students have until Friday to submit opt-out forms to have their information withheld from military recruiters.
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“By centralizing the process of turning over students' private contact information to the military, the DOE is finally acknowledging that unchecked military recruitment is a problem. But its solution is to throw gasoline on the fire,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “The new policy makes it easier than ever for recruiters to access our children's personal information, going way beyond the city's obligations under federal law.”
The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 grants military recruiters wide access to public high schools and to students' personal information. But the NCLB law also requires schools to allow students and parents to withhold personal information from the military.
According to the new policy, students' personal information will be provided to military recruiters centrally by the DOE during the first week of November. It revokes prior policy that sought to protect students' privacy by requiring school-specific requests for student information and allowing individual schools to handle those requests.
“Students go to school to learn, not to be recruited,” said Sabita Ramsaran, a senior at Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in Brooklyn who has never gotten any opt-out information. “With these new actions in the chancellor's directive, the Department of Education is pushing us towards the military rather than acquiring a higher education.”
The NYCLU has asked the DOE to extend Friday's deadline by a month and to commence a 30-day public comment period before implementing the Sept. 16 directive.
“The DOE is giving military recruiters a direct line to New York City's children. This new policy gives the military access to students that colleges, trade schools and prospective employers never had,” Lieberman said. “To make these changes in secret without parent or public input shows a startling disregard for open government and the privacy rights of parents and children.”
The new policy also fails to explain that military recruiters must not receive preferential treatment not provided to other institutions, such as colleges or job recruiters. Previously, the policy explicitly included this prohibition. The DOE also announced that individual schools will continue to handle requests from college recruiters, which appears to offer the military preferential treatment in a potential violation of federal law.
Despite reports of military recruiters harassing students and educators, the directive does not inform parents and students about how to report misconduct by military recruiters.
“The military's aggressive recruitment of our students requires transparency and public discussion, especially in wartime when recruiters are pressed to meet recruitment quotas,” said Councilmember Robert Jackson, chairman of the Education Committee. “But the DOE clings to secrecy and issues directives from behind closed doors.”
Last year, the NYCLU partnered with the Manhattan Borough President's Office and Students or Soldiers? Coalition to survey nearly 1,000 students from 45 schools where military recruitment activities were thought to be most prevalent. The survey demonstrated that many city public school students did not know they had the right to withhold information from military recruiters. It also showed that military recruiters frequently violate DOE guidelines by recruiting students during class time and that nearly half of students surveyed did not know where to report misconduct by recruiters.
“New York City public schools should not be targets of opportunity for military recruiters, and Tweed should not be a one-stop shop that will allow recruiters special access to thousands of student records,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer.
In response to the report, the DOE adopted language drafted by the Students or Soldiers? Coalition into a letter sent to parents and students, informing them of their right to withhold information from the military.
“While we appreciate the efforts to better inform parents and students of their rights, much more work is necessary to stop the unchecked military recruiting happening in the public schools,” said Udi Ofer, NYCLU advocacy director. “Children and their parents must be given all of the facts and ample opportunity to keep their private information private. Unfortunately, the DOE's new policy falls far short of protecting the rights of students and parents.”