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Published: Sunday, 10/9/2005

Recruiters a growing presence in schools

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sarah Melin, 16, left, and her father, Steve Melin, get information from Naval Reserves PO 2nd Class Kevin E. Crumble at Bowsher High School. Parents and Toledo Public Schools students not interested in the service can opt out of giving the military access to their personal data, but because of the No Child Left Behind Act, there are consequences. So far, 221 students have opted out, the district said. Sarah Melin, 16, left, and her father, Steve Melin, get information from Naval Reserves PO 2nd Class Kevin E. Crumble at Bowsher High School. Parents and Toledo Public Schools students not interested in the service can opt out of giving the military access to their personal data, but because of the No Child Left Behind Act, there are consequences. So far, 221 students have opted out, the district said.
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Scott High School teacher Mitch Balonek said men and women in uniform are constantly in and out of the school in Toledo's Old West End.

He's not talking about police officers or delivery people.

"Military recruiters in the school are becoming a real problem because they seem to have free access, and no one knows anything about these people," Mr. Balonek said. "They have been asking to take students out of the classes, and some of them even have offices in the school."

Military recruiting has re-emerged as a hot issue for Toledo Public Schools. Late last month, five people pleaded with school leaders to curb access recruiters have to students at schools.

Most other northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan school districts surveyed said they had few concerns from parents about recruiters in schools. However, some districts have had a few students or parents exercise their right to opt out of having students' personal information provided to military recruiters.

A provision of the No Child Left Behind Act requires high schools to give military recruiters student phone numbers and addresses unless a parent files a written request to "opt out."

Some districts, including Toledo Public, Maumee, and

Sylvania this year highlighted the opt-out option in brochures or letters sent to families.

In a review of local school districts, Bowling Green High School has one of the highest number of parents choosing to opt out.

Principal Jeff Dever said about one-fourth of the high school's students annually choose not have their personal information released to military recruiters.

Mr. Dever said it hasn't been a big issue at Bowling Green High School, although one parent wanted the military recruiters to stop calling his son. As it turned out, the boy had solicited more information from the recruiter.

"It was a failure to communicate at the family level," the principal said.

Military recruitment has grown difficult as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army reported recently that it will miss its 2005 goal of 80,000 recruits by about 6,800 or about 8.5 percent.

The Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, which are smaller than the regular Army, had even worse results.

And incidents like an investigation under way late last week by the Army and the Scioto County sheriff's office into whether a recruiter had sexual relationships with two female students at a southern Ohio school are not making it easier to convince parents or young people to trust military recruiters.

Capt. William Wedley, commander of the Army recruiting centers in Toledo, did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Local recruiters for the Marines and the Navy also did not return telephone calls from The Blade.

School officials say the growing trend by high school students is to dismiss military service outright in favor of college or even trade schools.

At Toledo Public, the region's largest school district with just over 30,000 students, a spokesman said the military will not get information on 221 high school students.

"Their parents have chosen to opt out, and no information will be provided," said Jane Bruss.

But the military likely has the personal information on the remaining 8,847 students attending TPS high schools.

Teresa Puglisi, guidance director at Toledo's Bowsher High School, said she is sensitive that some parents do not want the military to have contact with their sons or daughters.

"I am aware that some recruiters can be overzealous," she said. "They always check with me when they come in to the building, and if they don't, I have a problem with that."

She added that recruiters from the military's different branches come to the school about once a month and set up tables in the cafeteria. They are asked not to roam the hallways and speak to students.

Dave Yenrick, principal of Waite High School in East Toledo, said he has recruiters in the building about twice a month.

"In the last year or two, there has definitely been a slow down in students signing up, for obvious reasons," he said, citing the war in Iraq. "I do think [military recruiters] feed on the inner city schools more than the suburban and private schools because our students are more in need, and they don't have the same opportunities as students in more affluent schools."

Principals for suburban and rural schools said recruiters do visit their buildings and request the students' personal information.

Kelly Legg, director of guidance at Perrysburg High School, said students can't pick and choose to whom the district gives their information. If they opt out of having their information provided to the military, then they opt out of providing it to colleges as well, she said.

"My understanding is if a parent declines access to the military, they also must decline access to colleges," Mrs. Legg said. So far, all students who initially requested that the school not provide their names to the military have revoked that request.

That means the school can't send transcripts to colleges, Mrs. Legg said. Military recruiters have told the district that because the district receives federal funds, by law, the district must allow access to recruiters, she said.

Perrysburg High Principal Michael Short said whether schools can send student information to colleges if the student has requested it not be given to recruiters is "kind of a gray area."

He said no students or parents in the district have expressed concerns about the district's policy. If it became an issue, he said, "I would double-check with our legal counsel."

While it is true a district runs the risk of losing federal funding if it does not comply with the No Child Left Behind law, Jan Kilbride, TPS assistant superintendent of high schools, said sending transcripts to colleges has nothing to do with denying military access to information for a student who doesn't want the military to have that information.

Ms. Kilbride said if a college asked for a complete list of TPS students and their personal information - as the military does - then that list might not include students who have chosen the opt-out right. However, she acknowledged it is "extremely rare" for a college to request such a list.

At Findlay High School, where 12 seniors last year joined the military, Principal Craig Kupferberg said only two seniors and one junior have asked not to have their personal information released to military recruiters.

Mr. Kupferberg could recall just one parent who was upset about the rules allowing access to military recruiters. The parent wanted his child to receive information from colleges and universities but not from the military.

At Lake High School in Wood County, no parents have opted out of having their children's information provided to military recruiters, said Diane Smith, counselor to juniors and seniors. Last year, she said about six students were recruited into the military from the class of about 140.

"No one has ever raised a concern over this," she said, adding that the school board has not considered challenging the issue. The school provides a list of students to recruiters every year.

Five students from 269 members of Oregon's Clay High School Class of 2004 reported they were planning on going into the armed forces after graduation, said guidance counselor Doug Dippman.

He said there have been several occasions in the past where a parent has requested their children's information not be released to any military recruiter, and Clay High has had just one such request this year.

In the Sylvania schools, the parents of seven high school students have opted out of information being forwarded about their child to military recruiters. Nancy Crandell, spokesman for the district, said the system sent letters to the parents of each of the 2,668 high school students.

She said recruiters for military service are allowed the same access to the schools as college recruiters have.

In Michigan, Bedford High School principal Dennis Caldwell said "only one" parent has requested that a child's contact information be withheld from military recruiters.

Annually, about 2 percent of Bedford's senior class enlists in the armed forces, Mr. Caldwell said. Bedford graduated 430 seniors last year.

Spokesmen for both Monroe and Mason high schools said no parents had requested that their child's names be left off the military recruitment list and that the issue hadn't been broached by the district, either.

Blade staff writers Jennifer Feehan, Mike Jones, Steve Murphy, Erika Ray, Janet Romaker, Elizabeth A. Shack, Larry P. Vellequette, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.



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