This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
A controversial provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts to turn over lists of the names, addresses, and phone numbers of their juniors and seniors to the U.S. military for recruiting purposes. The law trumped privacy policies in many school districts restricting the release of student information to outside parties.
But the federal law also said parents can “opt out” – and organizations in Philadelphia and nationally have mounted visible public education campaigns about the right to sign a form telling the school district to withhold students’ contact information from military recruiters.
“Opt-out” forms must be submitted by late October to avoid having student information turned over to the Pentagon.
Locally, groups such as American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Global Women’s Strike, the Green Party, and Veterans for Peace are conducting coordinated information campaigns on the opt-out provisions, while raising concerns about aggressive military recruitment in Philadelphia’s public high schools.
“Students and parents have been very grateful to get the information,” said parent Pat Albright of Global Women’s Strike, who has leafleted at high schools before and after school. “The military recruiters are all over these schools, so our effort really strikes a chord.”
Over 3,000 Philadelphia students opted out last school year. Nationally, a coalition called “Leave My Child Alone,” which maintains that military recruiters should not contact children without the consent of their parents, has had almost 20,000 students opt out via their website.
The coalition is also monitoring how well school districts are complying with the opt-out provisions of the federal law. Spokesperson Josh Sonnenfeld said that the School District of Philadelphia “met the bare bones requirements for being on our ‘honor roll,’ but there’s a lot more they should be doing to have a strong notification policy and protect students’ privacy rights.”
Sonnenfeld said the School District sends all 11th and 12th graders a letter notifying them of their right to opt out, but said there could be more communication with parents. He pointed out that lists provided to the military by the School District include students’ school and grade – more information than the law requires them to release.
For more information on “opting out,” go to www.leavemychildalone.org or contact AFSC at 215-241-7176.