“Opt-Out” is the law: Students, families may choose not to be contacted by military recruiters through schools

We are a nation at war. Afghanistan. Iraq. More than 2,000 service personnel have died and thousands more have been wounded. Combat leads to a need for new recruits. Yet, this need for new recruits did not catch the Bush administration by surprise. Instead, as part of the administration’s preparations for war in 2001, the government gave military recruiters more access to high school students through the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

Buried deep inside this centerpiece of the Bush administration’s education policy, Section 9528 “Armed Forces Recruiter Access to Students and Student Recruitment Information,” requires school districts that receive federal funds to provide military recruiters with high school student contact information (i.e., name, address and telephone number) unless the student or parent “opts-out” of this student directory. If school districts choose not to provide a student directory to military recruiters, they risk the loss of federal funds.

While NCLB requires school districts to inform students and parents of their right to opt-out of releasing student contact information, many students and parents remain unaware of this option. Why? There is no prescribed way to inform students and parents about their right to opt-out. School districts can inform students and parents as they choose. Often, school districts choose to send out the opt-out form/letter at the beginning of the school year as part of a large packet of information. In many cases, the form/letter does not appear different from many others in the packet and can be easily overlooked. In other cases, some school districts do not have a policy in place to inform students and parents of their right to opt-out of providing contact information to military recruiters.

Military recruiters will use the student contact information to mail recruitment materials to students, call them at home and even make home visits. The need for new recruits means that military recruiters are persistent. Simply saying no may not be enough. If students or parents do not want to be contacted by military recruiters, their best option is to opt-out of the student directory.

As someone involved in the training of administrators and teachers, I believe that it is imperative that school districts make informing students and parents of their rights regarding opting out a priority. What can school districts and high schools do?

1. All opt-out announcements, displays, posting and forms/letters should be translated into languages other than English as needed by students and parents.

2. Instead of including the opt-out form/letter with a large packet of other information, school districts should send the information separately after the start of school but before the deadline to release student contact information.

3. If the separate mailing is deemed impractical, then school districts should include the opt-out notification as part of the Student Emergency Card. Since this card must be returned by all students, this option would ensure that the majority of students and parents have an opportunity to exercise their right to opt-out.

4. School districts and high schools should prominently display the opt-out option with deadlines (the date by which opt-out requests must be received in order to remove the student from the first directory released) on their websites. These displays should include an opt-out form that can be downloaded by students or parents.

5. High schools should make public address announcements regarding the opt-out option and deadlines.

6. Opt-out forms should be readily available in every high school office as well as the school districts’ offices.

7. Teachers should be encouraged to inform their students of the opt-out option and provide opt-out forms to students. This could be done in a variety of ways, including simple announcements or as part of a class discussion.

While federal law requires school districts to release student contact information to military recruiters, it also requires school districts to inform students and parents of their right to opt-out and to honor such requests. The list above is not exhaustive, but offers practical suggestions for school districts to comply with federal law.

Scott Key is a professor in the foundations, curriculum and teaching program at Fresno Pacific University’s School of Education. He has a particular interest in recruitment issues.