A new bill in the California legislature could, if passed, set a major precedent at the state level for protecting students from aggressive military recruiting. Assembly Bill 2994, the Student and Family Privacy Protection Act of 2008, was introduced on February 22, 2008, by Assembly members Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View) and Loni Hancock (D-East SF Bay).
AB 2994 would accomplish two main goals: (1) make it easier for students and parents to opt out from the contact lists that high schools must give to recruiters; and (2) put an end to the military’s practice of using the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test to extract detailed personal information about students.
The opt-out portion of the proposed law repeats language from a previous bill that passed the state legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in October of 2006. It addresses the problem of schools not adequately informing students and parents about their right to withhold information when lists of students’ names, addresses and phone numbers are released to military recruiters. Because of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, federal law threatens schools with the loss of federal education dollars if they do not release such lists, but the same law also says that individual students and their parents must be given a chance to opt out.
Schools have not always adequately publicized this opt-out right and have sometimes buried the notice in lengthy handbooks or school registration packets. AB 2994 would change that by requiring schools to include the notice on any forms they use to collect emergency information from parents and students. A check-off box would need to be placed on the form to make opting out easy. Schools would also have to give the notice in all the languages they normally use on the emergency form, and a student’s request to opt out would prevail over the request of a parent or guardian.
While federal law mandates that schools must honor a request to exclude a student’s name, address and phone number from the lists given to recruiters, there is no such requirement when schools voluntarily invite the military to administer the ASVAB, which happens in approximately two-thirds of all high schools each year. Because of the lack of required disclosure, students and their parents are usually not informed that the ASVAB provides recruiters with information that goes well beyond the simple contact lists released under the No Child Left Behind Act. ASVAB data includes a student’s contact information, birth date, gender, race, ethnicity, future plans, Social Security number and aptitude profile as determined by the test. Unless a school dictates otherwise, all of this data is automatically released to recruiters shortly after it is processed at the nearest Military Entrance Processing Station. Students then have to weather multiple contacts at home by aggressive recruiters.
In addition to the lack of disclosure about the recruiting purpose of the test, another problem stems from the fact that the vast majority of students who are being given the ASVAB are under the age of 18. Though they are legal minors, parental notification and consent are not mandatory, which runs contrary to various federal and state laws.
In November of 2007, the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (USMEPCOM) released statistics on ASVAB testing in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center in Memphis. According to the numbers released, out of 573,504 students who were given the ASVAB in fiscal year 2007, only 5.7% were tested on condition that their data not be released for recruitment purposes. Military regulations grant schools the sole power to select the non-release option, yet as these statistics demonstrate, the vast majority does not do so. The authors of AB 2994 are seeking to address this problem by including language in the bill that would make the non-release option mandatory for all ASVAB testing in California.
COMD has looked at the wording of the bill and identified changes that are needed to clarify the ASVAB sections. If the authors accept the amendments we have suggested and the bill makes it through the legislature, it will effectively end the use of the test by the military for mass invasions of student and family privacy in California.
AB 2994 is just beginning to move through the legislative process. It was scheduled for its first hearing in the Assembly Education Committee on April 9. Following that, it would need to go through the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and then the full assembly, after which it would be taken up by the state senate.*
On a more local level, activists in two large school districts in Maryland and the Los Angeles Unified School District have won acceptance of non-release policies for all ASVAB testing, and the Washington, D.C., school system has suspended ASVAB testing until an alternative aptitude test can be chosen. This kind of grassroots action around the issue is growing and will no doubt continue if there is no intervention at the state level; however, if AB 2994 can become law in California, it will make success much more likely for anti-ASVAB campaigns nationwide.
For more information on the ASVAB and AB 2994, contact COMD, firstname.lastname@example.org, 760-753-7518. For the text of the bill and to receive email notices when there is legislative action, visit http://www.leginfo.ca.gov.
*Update, 5/5/08: AB 2994 passed both the Assembly Education and Veterans Affairs committees. Next will be a vote on the floor of the Assembly.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)