In response to protests from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Students or Soldiers? coalition, elected officials and concerned parents and students, the Department of Education sent an electronic notice to principals two days ago informing them that they have two more weeks before they must turn over the personal information of New York City children to the DOE for military recruitment purposes.

However, once again, the DOE has failed to communicate the change with students or their parents.

Last week, 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.

“By sending this email to principals, the DOE is acknowledging that its plan to streamline the turnover of children's personal information to military recruiters is flawed,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “But once again, it insists on secrecy. Why weren't parents or students informed of this change? It's a sad day when the New York Civil Liberties Union has to tell parents what's happening in our schools because the DOE won't.”

On Sept. 16, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein issued a policy directive to principals that streamlined the process for providing military recruiters with 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, and they were not communicated to parents or students, despite the enormous implications to children's privacy. According to the new policy, students had until Friday, Oct. 17 to submit opt-out forms to have their information withheld from military recruiters for the upcoming school year.

In an email sent to principals this week, the DOE said that principals now have until Friday, Oct. 31 before they must turn over the names of those who have opted out. Parents and children have not been informed that they now have two additional weeks to turn in their opt-out forms.

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 email, students' personal information will be provided to military recruiters centrally by the DOE after November 15, though previous communications with principals said the information would be sent the first week of November.

All of these changes revoke prior policy that sought to protect students' privacy by requiring school-specific requests for student information and allowing individual schools to handle those requests. None of these changes were communicated with parents, and a search of the DOE's web site reveals out-dated information about last school year's opt-out procedure.

Over the past two weeks, Student or Soldiers? Coalition volunteers have visited 15 schools in all five boroughs to distribute thousands of opt-out cards and the NYCLU's “No Student Left Unrecruited” palm card. Tonight, on parent-teacher night across the city, more than 100 Students or Soldiers? coalition volunteers will talk to parents at 53 high schools about protecting their children's personal information from military recruiters.

“Students go to school to learn, not to be recruited,” said Sabita Ramsaran, a member of the Ya-Ya Network and 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 previously asked the DOE to extend the opt-out deadline by a month and to commence a 30-day public comment period before implementing the Sept. 16 directive. The NYCLU also asked the DOE to:

  • Provide a centralized mechanism to ensure that students and parents' privacy is protected
  • Accept opt-out forms and requests electronically and through the DOE web site
  • Implement a system that other schools districts use successfully – distribute opt-out forms with emergency contact forms
  • Make public the process used to assess individual schools' compliance with the opt-out procedures
  • Create and make public a meaningful mechanism for parents and children to report problems with the opt-out procedure and report complaints about overly aggressive military recruiters

In a letter to the NYCLU and in its public statements, the DOE has yet to respond to these concerns.

“It's time for the DOE to embrace transparency,” 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. Outside parties including the NYCLU should be able to monitor the opt-out process to ensure that our children are protected.”