When high school senior Ciarra Boyd recently persuaded her friend to not join the U.S. military, she got something she was not expecting: an irate call from her friend’s recruiter.
Boyd, who lives in the South Bronx and attends Urban Academy High School on Manhattan’s East Side, says she was deeply shaken by the experience.
“He [the recruiter] is yelling at me on the phone, ‘You need to mind your business. He’s a man, he can make his own decisions. You’re lucky I don’t know where you live,’” said Boyd, a member of the Ya-Ya Network, a student-driven organization involved in “counter-recruiting,” or stopping teens from joining the military.
New regulations by New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein announced earlier this year hope to monitor U.S. military recruiters who focus on courting high school students. Under the new rules, which take effect this semester, recruiters will be banned from using class time for presentations and all 9th to 12th grade students will be given forms to opt out of the provision in the No Child Left Behind Act, which automatically releases students’ contact information to recruiters.
“I don’t want to just be fed a whole bunch of lies and possibly die in Iraq,” said Tracy Hobbs, a Flatbush senior who attends Metropolitan High School in Brownsville. Hobbs is also a member of the Ya-Ya Network.
Also under the new mandate, each school must select a school official to coordinate these efforts. Schools will also be prohibited from automatically releasing test scores and contact information to the military for students who have taken the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test (ASVAB).
A report on student experiences with recruiters that was released by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in 2007 charges that the city’s Department of Education (DOE) has failed to protect students’ rights.
Of the 1,000 students surveyed in the report, 40 percent did not receive opt-out forms at the beginning of the school year, and 45 percent were unfamiliar with the procedure for reporting recruiter misconduct.
While optimistic, many advocates are concerned about how the rules will be implemented. Ya-Ya Network Executive Director Amy Wagner says enforcing the new regulations will be difficult if students, parents and teachers are not aware of them.
There has been so little press coverage of the new rules that when The Indypendent contacted two different military recruiter spokespeople, it appeared neither knew the regulations existed.
While this policy change is the result of six years of lobbying efforts by the NYCLU, the Students or Soldiers? Coalition and other community groups, many still worry that these changes will be inadequate to prevent teens from enlisting.
Advocates are concerned that the rules will not affect how the military disproportionally targets poorer and minority communities. According to the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker social justice organization, lower-income neighborhoods, such as the South Bronx, East New York and Flatbush, have higher rates of military recruitment, while more affluent areas have lower rates.
While recruiting rates had dropped in recent years, the economic recession, however, has forced many people, like Dan Brown, to reconsider enlisting. Brown said he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the Brooklyn Heights recruiting station in mid-September after looking for a job for five months. In the first six months of 2009, the military reported that it exceeded its active duty recruitment goals by 5 percent.
According to the progressive think tank National Priorities Project, in 2008 52 percent of U.S. Army recruits were under the age of 21, and 82 percent were 24 and under. The Army accounts for nearly half of total recruiting numbers.
While the new rules will make it more difficult for the military to contact students, the military collects information in many other ways, including data mining, online career tests, video games and marketing software.
With more than 260,000 high school students, New York City is the largest school district in the country. Advocates hope that Klein’s regulations will serve as an example for others districts and they plan to hold DOE accountable. Currently only a handful of other cities, including Los Angeles and Portland,Ore., limit recruitment efforts in schools.
Advocates are concerned over the absence of a provision that would allow students to report problems they may have with recruiters. "This policy fails to set out a clear, definite grievance procedure where if students have a problem, where to go, how to deal with it, " said Ari Rosmarin, the NYCLU’s senior advocacy coordinator who has worked on the campaign to create the guidelines for the past five years.
“Advocates, community members, students, we are all looking this year to see if the DOE is actually going to live up to its word and implement this policy,” Rosmarin added.
For more information, and to download opt-out forms, visit http://www.nyclu.org/milrec/optout.