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From Draft NOtices, May-June 2005

Proposal Would Restore Privacy Rights Surrendered to the Military

—Rick Jahnkow

Representative Michael Honda, a Democratic member of Congress from San Jose, California, has introduced legislation that would require written permission from a parent before any secondary school that receives federal funds could release a student's name, address and phone number to military representatives.

The proposal, H.R. 551, was introduced on February 2, 2005, under the name Student Privacy Protection Act of 2005 and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Education Reform. In addition to the sponsor (Honda), there were 31 co-sponsors as of May 5.

The bill would reverse a change in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 implemented as a result of the legislation commonly known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. The NCLB Act says that in order to receive federal education funds, secondary schools must provide student information to recruiters unless students or their parents had opted out. The law also states that secondary schools must "provide military recruiters the same access to secondary school students as is provided generally to post secondary educational institutions or to prospective employers of those students." The latter section was aimed at school districts in Portland, Oregon, San Francisco and a few other communities where recruiters were banned during the 1990s.

Since the recruiter access provisions of No Child Left Behind were implemented in 2002, there have been numerous complaints regarding schools that are not adequately informing students and parents about their right to opt out, or that are misapplying the law. Some schools bury the opt-out notice in a newsletter that many parents and students do not read. Some schools require a student to be opted out annually, even though the law clearly states that no information may be released to the military without written permission, once a student has opted out.

In some cases schools have released information even when the opt-out right has been exercised. For example, a parent in Huntington Beach, California, who opted his son out two years in a row, was told by the school district this April that information on his son and "several other students" who had requested confidentiality had been "inadvertently released" to the military.

In a similar case in Hawai'i, a parent complained to the school system because her daughter's name was released to recruiters after opting out. The state department of education looked into the matter and replied: "Our investigation showed that you had submitted a request to withhold directory information about your daughter in September 2003. That being the case, we looked further into our processing of requests to withhold information and the creation of the lists for the military recruiters. We found problems with our process of data entering the request and with the creation of the lists." In other words, their computer system wasn't adjusted to ensure that opt-out requests would be respected.

Such mistakes can only be fully prevented if the default policy is to not release the information without a written request from the parent or student. It's been pointed out that with other student welfare issues, it is assumed that schools will require opt-in as a precondition — before students can go on field trips, for example. Turning over contact information to a person who will try to entice students into signing a contract that could cost them their lives should trigger just as much concern about student welfare as a field trip and, therefore, require permission in advance.

Before the No Child Left Behind Act, school districts had the power to decide which policy to follow. Most of the time, unfortunately, they chose an opt-out system, but at least they had the power to choose opt-in, if they wanted. A major erosion in civilian autonomy occurred, then, when Congress granted the military the power to override civilian government agencies on this issue.

Under the current political reality of Congress, some legislators do not believe H.R. 551 will get a floor vote as a stand-alone bill. Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), noted, "By introducing this bill, Rep. Honda is taking a critical step in gathering support for this provision in the lead-up to the debate over reauthorization of No Child Left Behind in 2006. Unfortunately, the majority leadership in the House has not indicated that the Student Privacy Protection Act is a priority for them." Honda may have to find another piece of legislation to attach his proposal to, one that will have the momentum necessary to bring it to the full Congress.

The co-sponsors of H.R. 551 thus far are:

Raul Grijalva (D-AZ, 7th)
Lynn Woolsey (D-CA, 6th)
George Miller (D-CA, 7th)
Barbara Lee (D-CA, 9th)
Fortney Stark (D-CA, 13th)
Sam Farr (D-CA, 17th)
Xavier Becerra (D-CA, 31st)
Hilda Solis (D-CA, 32nd)
Diane Watson (D-CA, 33rd)
Bob Filner (D-CA, 51st)
Robert Wexler (D-FL, 19th)
Cynthia McKinney (D-GA, 4th)
Bobby Rush (D-IL, 1st)
Luis Gutierrez (D-IL, 4th)
Janice Schakowsky (D-IL, 9th)
James McGovern (D-MA, 3rd)
John Conyers (D-MI, 14th)
Betty McCollum (D-MN, 4th)
James Oberstar (D-MN, 8th)
Gregory Meeks (D-NY, 6th)
Jerrold Nadler (D-NY, 8th)
Major Owens (D-NY, 11th)
Jose Serrano (D-NY, 16th)
Maurice Hinchey (D-NY, 22nd)
Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY, 28th)
Dennis Kucinich (D-OH, 10th)
Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH, 11th)
Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR, 4th)
Ron Paul (R-TX, 14th)
Gene Green (D-TX, 29th)
Jim McDermott (D-WA, 7th)

If your representative is not on this list, please urge her or him to sign on to H.R. 551, the Student Privacy Protection Act of 2005.

Until the law is changed, it is advisable that opt-out requests be submitted in writing to a student's school every year. Some schools have their own forms that can be used, but if not, a simple letter can be sent to the school, preferably via certified mail with a return receipt requested from the Post Office. Or you can use the opt-out form you can download by clicking here. The request should be submitted by the first week of school, if possible.

Information sources: Santa Cruz Sentinel (online), March 13, 2005; National Counter-recruitment discussion list,

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


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