By Chris Roberts
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In addition, the Army just closed its books on one of the worst recruiting years since it became all-volunteer 31 years ago. After the service missed its quota by nearly 7,000 recruits in fiscal year 2004, activists thirsty for triumph smelled blood. Local activist Tina Robinson describes today's counterrecruitment efforts as "pouncing on a wounded beast."
Meanwhile, there is another pending action that could change military recruiters' access to campuses. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case in December that will establish the constitutionality of requiring military recruiters on college campuses. The 1994 Solomon Amendment ties federal funding to the presence of military recruiters and ROTC programs. The plaintiffs are arguing that Solomon violates the First Amendment rights of colleges and universities by making the presence of military recruiters a condition of government funding. The case also questions the lawfulness of requiring universities to disregard their nondiscrimination policies by allowing the military on campus, since it tries to exclude homosexual students.
Should Solomon be declared unconstitutional, similar legal action against the No Child Left Behind clause would soon follow, thus legally jeopardizing the military's access to recruits on both high school and college campuses.
But until the case is decided, counterrecruiters are continuing in their quest.
In addition to Prop. I, San Francisco is also home to the national counterrecruitment effort that is focusing on student privacy.
The same clause of the No Child Left Behind Act that ties federal funds to a military presence on campus also requires school districts to release the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of students so the teens can be contacted by recruiters. Students' information is shared unless they request that the district not release it, and that refusal is commonly called "opting out."
Working Assets, a local nonprofit that specializes in donation-linked services and activism, is heading up the national campaign to encourage families to opt out. The campaign, called Leave My Child Alone, aims to educate families about the information-sharing requirement in the No Child Left Behind clause. Working Assets has organized in hundreds of districts nationwide to encourage students to opt out by signing a form stating that they do not authorize the school to pass along their information to the military.
Felicity Crush, the spokeswoman for Leave My Child Alone, says the opt-out form is getting lost in the influx of paperwork that goes home at the beginning of a new school year. Leave My Child Alone is working with school districts to give the form more prominence. Some schools have chosen to put the opt-out form on the emergency card, which parents are required to send back. In Santa Cruz, Crush says, that subtle change surged opt-out percentages up 63 percent.
With help from Working Assets, opt-out events have been held in every state. Nationally, more than 19,000 parents have opted their children out on the Leave My Child Alone Web site since August.
According to Lorna Ho, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Unified School District, of the 4,937 freshmen in San Francisco public high schools who received the opt-out form, 2,454 "do not want their information shared with Feds," Ho wrote in an e-mail message. Just 259 students OK'd sharing their information. Ho says the district will follow up with the 2,224 students who did not respond. Under the No Child Left Behind law, students who fail to submit forms will have their information automatically passed on to the military.
Commissioner Dan Kelly of the San Francisco school board recently introduced a resolution that aimed to strengthen San Francisco's opt-out procedure.
Kelly's resolution, which passed unanimously in October, asks students to make the choice about whether or not they want to be contacted by the military on the spot when they register for classes. Kelly says students can always change their minds later.
Though the school board has not issued a statement of support for Prop. I, President Eric Mar and Kelly do personally support it. But Kelly wishes the board had taken action before the resolution went on the citywide ballot.
"The board is very polarized over leadership," Kelly explains of the board's ongoing feud about replacing outgoing Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. "That polarization has detracted from the job that we should have done on this issue. We should have brought our own initiative to the board. I'm embarrassed that we haven't."
By reducing the number of students whose information is available to the U.S. military, opt-out programs have limited the military's ability to recruit even in neighborhoods where it's traditionally been successful. According to Becky Bond of Working Assets in San Francisco, the group helped fund one door-to-door opt-out effort in Miami that led to more than 6,000 poor and Latino students opting out.
Despite their close proximity and similar causes, the Prop. I team and Working Assets have never met. "I get some of their e-mails, but we're not really involved with them," Prop. I's Ragina Johnson says.
Disorganization has often been a problem for the modern anti-war movement, but why College Not Combat and Working Assets aren't working together is not a matter of disjointedness.
Off the record, one member of the national organizing effort in San Francisco says Prop. I is a waste of time. "It's just a pissing match. It was a huge organizing effort, but it's not going to get kids off the list or have any real effect. It's just an example of really self-involved activism."