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From Draft NOtices, July-September 2006

Why COMD Opposes the California Military Recruiting Opt-out Bill

At the time of this writing in early July, California Assembly Bill 1778 had passed the full state assembly, been approved by the senate education committee, and was on its way to a final vote this summer in the full senate.

AB 1778 says that if a school district collects emergency information for its high school students, the information card must include a notice that informs the parent or legal guardian and pupil of her or his right to request that the student’s name, address and phone number not be released to military recruiters or institutions of higher education. (The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has made it mandatory for schools to release this information unless a student or parent has opted out.)

When we analyzed AB 1778, we found that it provided a very large loophole for recruiters by allowing them to continue giving the military’s aptitude test — the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) — to students in grades 10-12. COMD decided to try to get AB 1778 amended to address this loophole, and we were joined by the Quaker-based California Friends Committee on Legislation (CFCL) and the Los Angeles Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools (CAMS).

Unfortunately the bill’s author, Assemblyperson Sally Lieber, refused to accept an amendment — even when it was suggested by the chair of the Assembly Education Committee. At that point, COMD felt it had to join CFCL in opposing the bill. To explain that opposition, we are reprinting here our letter to the California Senate Education Committee.

One counter-argument we’ve heard from a few activists is that even with the ASVAB loophole, any bill that raises the issue of recruiter access to student lists and helps more people opt out would still be good. Our response is that if we are only focusing on opt-out and leading people to think that it will protect their privacy, then we are spreading false information just like the recruiters we criticize. Very little can be gained from that.

Another argument offered by Lieber’s office and groups like Leave My Child Alone is that bringing up the ASVAB would make such a bill seem too “antimilitary” and, thus, kill its chances of passage. No one has explained, however, how adding the ASVAB to AB 1778 would make it seem any more antimilitary than the rest of the bill. Both issues are privacy-related, and high school ASVAB testing is actually a much more egregious assault on privacy than the release of simple name/address/phone lists under the NCLB Act. Schools are already required under NCLB to notify people that unless they opt out, the name/address/phone lists will be released; but there is no such notification required when the ASVAB is given. Furthermore, most students taking the ASVAB are under the age of 18 and are asked to waive their privacy rights at the moment they sit down to take the test — which is an illegal waiver that parents aren't even told about, let alone asked to permit!

Because it has been relatively easy for the military to get high schools to administer the ASVAB, we expect that if AB 1778 passes, recruiters will have an incentive to push even more schools into giving the test. The net result would be more detailed information going into recruiters’ local files and the Pentagon’s centralized recruiting database. This is unacceptable.

By taking this stand and explaining the problem, we hope that activists will incorporate the ASVAB issue when they push for similar legislation in other states or campaign for new policies in individual school districts.

June 15, 2006

Senator Jack Scott, Chair
Senate Education Committee
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: Assembly Bill 1778 – OPPOSE unless amended

Dear Senator Scott and Committee Members:

Our organization has been researching and addressing the issue of high school student privacy for the last 20 years. A particular concern of ours has been the release of confidential pupil information to military recruiters when it is not desired by pupils or their parents.

Much attention has recently been focused on the release to recruiters of basic student contact information (name, address and phone) that was made mandatory by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The act preserves the right of parents and students to opt out of the release of this basic information. Assembly Bill 1778 seeks to reinforce this right by making the opt-out process more visible and easier.

While we support the goal of empowering students and parents to protect their privacy, we do not feel AB 1778 would be effective in accomplishing this. This is because the current language of AB 1778 allows a loophole that can be used to circumvent the opt-out choice made by parents and students, and without an amendment to close this loophole, parents and students will be misled about the degree to which their privacy is being protected.

The mechanism that circumvents the opt-out choice is the Department of Defense’s Student Testing Program. Through this program, recruiters arrange for secondary schools to give the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test to 10th-12th graders, a large majority of whom are under the age of 18. Approximately two-thirds (14,000) of all high schools nationwide administer the test, which normally requires half a school day. In California’s largest school district, L.A. Unified, 75% of high schools give the test (based on data recently released by the DoD Military Entrance Processing Center in L.A.).

Our research has discovered, among other things, that some school districts do not inform students that the test is voluntary — effectively making it mandatory. (Note: administration of the ASVAB by high schools in not mandated by any federal law, including the No Child Left Behind Act.)

Except in a small number of cases where a school dictates otherwise, the information gathered is used for recruiting purposes by all the military branches and is fed into the DoD’s centralized recruiting database (according to the DoD’s notice in the Federal Register re. the JAMRS database). With only very few exceptions, parents are not notified of this or asked to give informed consent before their children are tested. Instead, students, including those who are legal minors, are asked to sign a privacy waiver at the moment they begin the test.

Besides obtaining pupil contact information and test scores, recruiters receive the Social Security number, gender and race/ethnicity recorded by each student on the test form. Because this information is not gathered from school registration records, it allows recruiters to use schools to gain more confidential data on pupils than the No Child Left Behind Act dictates. Furthermore, it applies to ALL tested students, including those who thought they would be protected if they or their parents opted out of the release of school lists under the No Child Left Behind Act.

There is an easy, fail-safe way to remedy this problem and still allow the military services to give the ASVAB in schools. It would also avoid mandating an expense to schools for data-matching or new parental permission forms. AB 1778 can be amended to simply require that if a California secondary school elects to give a test sponsored by an outside group to any of its students during school hours, it must notify the sponsor of the test that it can only be given on condition that no information gathered for any student be used for recruiting purposes. This non-release option is officially offered under the ASVAB Student Testing Program (ASVAB release option 8).

This requirement would not preclude an individual student who wishes to explore military enlistment from later releasing her or his ASVAB data directly to a recruiter. A DoD form (USMEPCOM Form 680-3A-E) is routinely used for this purpose.

We urge you to adopt such an amendment to make the other goals of AB 1778 realizable and still allow students to explore military enlistment if they wish.


Rick Jahnkow
COMD Program Coordinator

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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