School of hard knocks 

If a military recruiter came to Chastity’s house, she’s pretty sure her parents would ask them to skedaddle. The Hellgate High School junior isn’t sure her folks would even be polite about it.

“My parents would probably tell them to get off of our property, and get the hell out of there,” she says.

In the past, a military recruiter might not know where the 17-year-old lived. Not so today.

With the passing of two separate pieces of legislation—the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2002—high school principals are now required to provide military recruiters with information from school directories for juniors and seniors. Directories include students’ names, dates and places of birth, addresses, telephone numbers, grades, schools attended, diplomas, awards and honors. Even height and weight. And a photograph.

Earlier this school year, three Missoula area high schools passed the information on to the military. Sentinel High School is expecting the military’s formal request any day now. If a school were to refuse, it could be denied federal funds.

The change happened quietly. The adults expected it. The students—even the pudgy one who says he would join the Marines if he was in better shape—sense a breach.

“Letting our principal give out the information is just not right,” says Chastity. “It’s confidential.”

Her friend, Melynda, 17, agrees. And she’s wary about a military recruiter having her home address and knocking on her door.

“We don’t know what their backgrounds are,” she says. Mike, 17, is concerned about privacy. “Privacy is what this country has been founded on and that’s a major issue,” he says. “There’s some classmates that think it’s not for the Army to know. It’s for them to volunteer.”

But he hadn’t heard of the policy change. Neither had his friend, Zach, 17, who plans to join the Army but isn’t sure the military needs personal information in order to recruit. The military makes presentations at school already, he points out.

The adults don’t seem shocked by the request.

“It’s a change that is not surprising,” says Cheryl Wilson, Hellgate’s principal. “It fits in with other changes the government has made after 9-11.”

Jim Clark, superintendent for Missoula County Public Schools, says he directed his principals to comply with the military.

“From a school district perspective,” he says, “I’ve always wanted to cooperate with other agencies, at the same time protecting students’ privacy.”

Parents can opt out of having their child’s personal information shared by signing the generic school policy form included in each student’s enrollment packet. A sentence will be added before the next school year mentioning the military’s access, Wilson says. In the past, about two percent of parents so chose to keep their children’s information private.

“A very small number of people have been concerned in the past,” Wilson says. “I would imagine that that would change.”

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