Recruiting on high school campuses in San Diego underwent a paradigm shift on Nov. 30, 2010, with another victory by the Education Not Arms Coalition.
Born in 2007 out of students’ frustration over being put into JROTC classes against their will, and after constantly being told there was no room for them in college prep and AVID classes, the coalition brought together young people, their teachers, parents and community activists to challenge a practice that felt like tracking and a back-door draft for students in working-class communities.
In February of 2009 the Education Not Arms Coalition achieved its first victory by winning a 3-2 vote in the San Diego Unified School Board to eliminate weapons training in their schools. It also successfully influenced the superintendent to issue a policy that requires informed consent for students taking JROTC courses.
After this victory was celebrated, the students and other activists quickly went to work to challenge other inequities they saw playing out daily on their campuses. Military recruiters had unfettered access to students at school, often having daily contact in classrooms and the lunch quad. Recruiters sponsored assemblies and rallies and offered free gifts in exchange for personal information, which they later used to contact students at home.
At the same time students seeking college and career information rarely saw college or job recruiters on campus. When visiting the counselor’s office, they could access plenty of information on military careers but had difficulty finding college information. Combined with the lack of availability of A-G courses (the basic set of courses that are required for acceptance to California state universities), the message was painfully clear. Getting a college preparatory education was not possible for many of the students on their campuses. Instead they were being led toward the military as one of only a few viable options presented to them.
Students, their teachers and other allies continued to strategize a way to change this reality in their schools. They joined with the Education Consortium to push for access to A-G coursework, which successfully passed. Then the Education Not Arms Coalition began its campaign to regulate recruiting on San Diego Unified campuses.
Two students in the coalition strategized with Project YANO director Rick Jahnkow. They researched current recruiting guidelines in other school districts and worked on language for a policy to propose in San Diego. Students and teachers held meetings with San Diego Unified Board members and gained experience in behind-the-scenes organizing. After meeting with students, school board member John de Beck supported the need for a new policy and agreed to sponsor and introduce it. Activists from Education Not Arms attended the board meeting when the policy was presented and spoke about its importance. An ACLU representative and one school principal also spoke in favor of the policy. The board then sent the policy to be reviewed by administrators and legal department personnel.
On Nov. 30, 2010, a crowd of people from the coalition made their final case to the board. Eleven of them spoke, including students and parents, a teacher from the Association of Raza Educators, a former college recruiter, and a military veteran. School Board President Richard Barrera thanked the students from Mission Bay and Lincoln High Schools for their leadership in organizing this campaign. Board member John Lee Evans said that it was commendable that this was born out of a recognized problem and that the students chose to look for a balanced solution that included all types of recruiting. The school board then voted 4-1 to adopt the policy that would regulate and restrict recruiting in all of the district’s K-12 schools.
The new guidelines apply to all recruiting organizations, including civilian employers, public colleges, for-profit colleges, trade schools, the military, and those offering alternative information on the military. Recruiting organizations are limited to visiting a school twice each school year, except for centralized school career/college fairs or visits with school personnel. All recruiters must sign in and out in the school’s main office each time they visit the campus. Recruiters do not have unfettered access to students in classrooms, cafeterias, gyms, or other areas of the school. Recruiters visiting schools may not at any time solicit contact information directly from students or require it as a condition to participate in an activity or to receive an award or gift. Recruiters may provide their contact information to students who wish to get in touch with them outside of school. All recruiters must clearly identify the organization for which they are recruiting, and displays of weapons are not permitted at any time, including weapons simulators. Violations of these guidelines can result in the loss of school access.
One of the key ways military recruiters have historically gained access to students’ personal information has been by administering the military’s aptitude test, the ASVAB, in high schools. The new policy states that schools may no longer administer the ASVAB unless it is done under Release Option 8, which specifies that test information may not be used for recruiting purposes.
The victory of passing this policy in San Diego Unified cannot be overstated. This is one of the largest school districts in the country, operating in a huge military town. The strategies from this campaign can be applied across the country by those struggling against the militarization of our youth. We in the Education Not Arms Coalition stand ready to partner locally and nationwide on ways to promote an education system that broadens students’ minds and increases their opportunities while challenging a system that often treats students like commodities, trained to conform without using critical thinking skills. Our work to promote democracy, peace, and justice must be focused on challenging and changing the dominant discourse in our schools.
For more information: Education Not Arms Coalition, http://www.projectyano.org/educationnotarms.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/)