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Published: Monday, 10/17/2005

Overly aggressive recruiters

It's a dilemma. Military recruiters, struggling to meet their quotas in the face of an increasingly unpopular war, want easy access to high school students, something the law says they must have. But school districts, including Toledo Public Schools, want reasonable restrictions that eliminate disruptions.

At issue here is the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandates that military recruiters must get the same access to students in public schools - and private schools which get federal funds - that college recruiters get.

Magnifying the conflict is a simple fact: Desperate recruiters have been missing their enlistment targets. The Army is short of its 2005 recruitment goal of 80,000 by 6,800.

Schools have asked recruiters not to roam the halls to talk with students, and many parents object to a military presence in a school building in the first place.

From the recruiters' perspective, of course, schools are a fertile source of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. Their frequent visits to inner-city schools reflect an economic reality: Many students there have fewer post-high school options. Put another way, many cannot afford college and the military offers a career or the means to save for a college education.

The law does give parents an out. If they choose to "opt out" by filing a written request not to have their children's personal details released to the military, recruiters won't get the information.

The number of students whose information is withheld varies from school to school and district to district. Recently the military was prevented from obtaining records on 221 of 8,847 Toledo high school students. That's not a very high percentage of opt-outs.

But the pressures on young students can be intense. A Washington Local School mother of three sons complained about recruiters who once wandered Whitmer High School's hallways. She implied that one son succumbed to aggressive recruiting methods and enlisted in the Navy as a result.

TPS and other school districts should seek a middle ground here. Career nights, where college and military recruiters make their pitches side by side, are one popular option.

As long as this country has no military draft, recruiters are going to be aggressive in their pursuit of new recruits. But they shouldn't track students down as they emerge from class.

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