NYCLU Urges School Officials to Protect Students From Unwanted Military Recruitment Solicitations

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
October 14, 2002 12:00 am

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NEW YORK -The New York Civil Liberties Union today criticized the city’s top education official for failing to protect public high school students and their families from unwanted military recruitment solicitations and for using scarce education dollars to subsidize the program under the “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2002.

“We have received numerous complaints from students, parents and teachers that New York City’s Department of Education procedures regarding the release of students’ personal information to the military do not adequately protect the privacy of students and their families,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU.

Under the federal “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2002, student contact information, including unlisted phone numbers, must be shared upon request with every branch of the military. However, the Act also gives crucial privacy protection to students and their families.

But in a letter send today to Joel Klein, Chancellor of the Department of Education, the NYCLU said that Klein had eviscerated that protection and ignored the legal mandate to give students a voice in the process.

“I urge Chancellor Klein to scrap a bad policy and start from scratch,” said Lieberman. “The Department’s attempt at compliance is going to subject unwitting families to invasions of privacy.”

According to Lieberman, the law gives students and parents the right to say that their contact information cannot be disclosed to military recruiters without prior parental approval. In response, the Department of Education set up an “opt-out” system which parents to request privacy in writing. In late September, the department mailed letters to parents of over a quarter million high school students, giving them a deadline of October 15th to write back and request that their child’s contact information be kept confidential.

“Who knows whether this letter gets received or read,” said Lieberman. “Opt-out features typically receive little attention or response, which means information will be released by default, rather than intention. Instead of requiring written authorization to withhold student information from the military, the Department of Education should require written permission to release it.”

In the letter, Lieberman chastised Klein for subjecting students and their families to invasions of privacy as a condition of exercising the right and obligation to attend school. She said the invasion of privacy is made worse when the privacy invader is the military, adding that unsolicited recruiting letters from possibly every branch of the military could be coercive.

“Moreover, for new immigrants, many of whom are particularly vulnerable in the aftermath of last year’s terrorist attacks, the potential for intimidation and coercion is even greater,” Lieberman said in the letter.

Lieberman also urged Chancellor Klein to bill the military for all costs associated with providing student lists to recruiters. “We can’t afford textbooks, music, art or athletics, so why are we subsidizing the armed forces?” Lieberman asked.

On October 11, the NYCLU sent a memorandum to school officials and parents throughout the state to offer assistance and share information that can help preserve the individual privacy rights of high school students. The memorandum includes a summary of the law as well as sample opt-out forms.

The memo to schools and parents is online at /node/20922

The letter to Chancellor Klein is online at /node/20923

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