Working with the New York Civil Liberties Union, U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, joined by more than two-dozen federal, state and local policymakers, is urging Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to immediately suspend a new policy that makes it easier than ever for military recruiters to obtain the personal information of New York City public school students. They offered close to two-dozen recommendations for the city to adopt to protect the rights of students and parents.

Military recruitment at select New York City public schools violates students rights, report finds
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In a Nov. 24 letter co-signed by 27 elected officials – nine members of the city's congressional delegation, the public advocate, the Bronx and Manhattan borough presidents, six state senate and assembly members, and nine city council members – Rangel expressed concern that the Department of Education is not sufficiently protecting student privacy and is going well beyond its obligations to disclose students' information to military recruiters under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Rangel asked Klein to commence a 30-day comment period on the new policy to give parents, students, educators and community members an opportunity to offer better ways to meet NCLB's recruitment demands. Klein has not responded to the letter.

“Congressman Rangel and the more than two-dozen elected officials who signed his letter are rightly concerned that the DOE is becoming a central recruiting station for the U.S. Military,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “DOE policy should focus on protecting student privacy and ensuring that our children receive complete information about the advantages and disadvantages of a military career. It shouldn't roll out the red carpet for aggressive military recruitment, which invariably is focused on schools in poor, largely minority communities.”

NCLB 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.

Rangel, a decorated Korean War veteran who represents the 15th District, provided Klein a detailed list of recommendations to comply with federal law while protecting students' privacy rights and not giving preferential treatment to military recruiters. Among recommendations submitted by Rangel and a coalition of elected officials, parents and advocates was the suggestion that the DOE should adopt a Chancellor's Regulation detailing students' right to opt out from having their contact information given to the military and regulating military recruiters' access to students and school grounds.

In October, NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman stood before the New York City Department of Education to demand that the DOE stop giving the military preferential access to students' personal information. She was joined by New York City students and (left to right) City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Councilman Robert Jackson, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Rangel also urged Klein to insist that the U.S. Department of Defense pay all costs associated with requests for student contact information and military access in the schools. This is particularly important at a time when the city's education budget is being slashed.

“By giving the Department of Defense preferential access to our students, the DOE is at least implicitly promoting the military without giving students a full picture of the breadth of career options that lie outside of the armed forces,” Rangel said. “We should do all that we can to give students as much information as possible so they can make well-informed, voluntary decisions about their futures.”

Klein's policy, issued Sept. 16 in a directive to principals, attempts to streamline the process for providing military recruiters the personal information of all 11th and 12th grade students at the city's public high schools. Under the policy, students' personal information will be provided to military recruiters centrally by the DOE, revoking prior policy that sought to protect students' privacy by requiring military recruiters to make school-specific requests for student information and allowing individual schools to handle those requests. The policy changes were made unilaterally and without any public input.

In an Oct. 21 e-mail, the DOE informed principals that it would begin providing students' information to military recruiters after Nov. 15.

“To make these changes in secret without soliciting parent or public input showed a startling disregard for open government and the privacy rights of parents and children,” said NYCLU Organizer Erica Braudy. “The time is long past due for the DOE to ensure that all students know and can exercise their rights to opt-out of military databases, to ensure that not a minute of instruction time be spent with military recruiters, and to ensure that military recruiters are not given free run of schools to meet their war-time quotas.”

The lack of transparency and public input in instituting this major policy comes at a time when state lawmakers are considering whether to extend mayoral control over New York City schools. The NYCLU has expressed concern over the growing secrecy and lack of public accountability in the city's education policies ever since Bloomberg took control over city schools.

The NYCLU and its partners in the Students or Soldiers? Coalition have visited dozens of high schools in all five boroughs this fall informing parents and students of their rights to withhold their information from recruiters, distributing thousands of opt-out cards and the NYCLU's “No Student Left Unrecruited” palm card. The NYCLU worked closely with Rangel in drafting the letter and gathering the support of the elected leaders who cosigned it.

The following elected officials cosigned Rangel's letter: U.S. Rep Joseph Crowley, 7th District; U.S. Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, 6th District; U.S. Rep Jerrold Nadler, 8th District; U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns, 13th District; U.S. Rep. Jose E. Serrano, 16th District; U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez, 12th District; U.S. Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, 9th District; U.S. Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, 11th District; Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum; Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer; Sen. Bill Berkins; Sen. Eric T. Schneiderman; Sen. Jose M. Serrano; Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat; Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer; Councilman Bill de Blasio; Councilwoman Inez E. Dickens; Councilman Alan Gerson; Councilman Robert Jackson; Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito; Councilman Miguel Martinez; and Councilman Albert Vann.