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Uncle Sam Wants You to Not See This

If you don’t want your children’s information given to military recruiters, you better check their backpacks

Kathleen Sullivan sorted through a packet she received from Albany High School. “There’s just a bunch of stuff in here,” she said as she shuffled through the papers. She counted the packets of information. “One, two. . . . Oh, there is just a bunch of stuff, school pictures, school lunch, reporting.”

Then she found it, the opt-out form every school is now required to send out by the No Child Left Behind Act. Parents must choose to stop their children’s information from being sent to military recruiters from every branch of the military. She read: “Failure to return this form by Sept. 15 will result in release of your child’s directory information without your consent to anyone who requests it.”

“That’s ridiculous!” she gasped. “It’s in here with school pictures. It could easily be overlooked!”

In most school districts, the forms must be returned within 10 business days, otherwise students’ information is automatically released.

Opt-out forms inform parents about their rights pertaining to their child’s information, and they also explain exactly what is considered directory information. Bob Alft, whose son attends Voorheesville High School, thinks the information is frighteningly thorough. “It includes age, address, height and weight if on a sports team, area of study, attendance, grades, awards won and also after-school activities,” said Alft.

According to many parents and activists in this area, opt-out forms seem specifically designed to ensure that students’ information is released to recruiters. “I would think if you want your child’s information sent out you would send the form back. It makes more sense,” says Sullivan. Sullivan isn’t the only one who feels that way.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) introduced the Student Privacy Protection Act in March. The bill is designed to limit recruiters’ access to schools and require parents to give permission to school districts (i.e., opt in) rather than take away an assumed permission. The bill has been referred to the house subcommittee on education reform and likely will be reintroduced at the start of the next session. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) and is supported by 49 other Democrats and two Republicans.

At least two schools in New York have taken it upon themselves to take an opt-in approach. Edward A. Reynolds High School in New York City and Fairport Central School District are operating with an opt-in form that allows parents to grant their permission to have information sent out; if they fail to return the form, permission is assumed to not have been given. These schools are risking federal funding to operate this way, though the New York Civil Liberties Union has offered to defend them if challenged.

In some school districts in the area, opting out from having information sent to recruiters also prevents students from receiving information from colleges, which worries some parents. However, some schools are sending out itemized forms that allow parents to opt out of one and not the other. Alft said that he learned by speaking to school officials that parents who are worried about opting out of college information can simply specify on the form what exactly they are opting out of. He also noted that not receiving mailings from colleges does not mean kids are at any disadvantage in applying to them.

In any case, Alft frets that opting out may be futile, as most 16-year-old male students are registered for the Selective Service when they register for their driver’s licenses, and Selective Service does give out information to other branches of the government. However, schools are required to send both boys’ and girls’ information to recruiters.

Sullivan feels that something of such a serious nature with so many implications should not be thrown in with the rest of the school information, and is astounded that the form seems to be treated as lightly as it is. “Some worse-off parents can’t read,” she said. “Some don’t care. I think that it is pretty amazing that because a parent does not send this back for some reason, within two weeks that their child’s information is going to given to anybody who asks for it.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

Which Is It?

After years of insisting that legislatures, not courts, should lead on same-sex marriage, gay marriage opponents and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have conveniently reversed themselves as soon as a Legislature did so. Both houses of California’s Legislature have passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, but the governor and opponents are now saying that the bill does not overturn previous laws, and the issue should be decided in court.

Oh, Now You’re Upset About It

With criticism mounting about how many U.S. soldiers are in Iraq while thousands of Americans are dying in Louisiana and Mississippi, Rep. Michael McNulty (D-Green Island) recently announced his support for legislation that would withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by October 2006. This a significant turnaround for the congressman, who not only was a supporter of the war, but also rarely challenges the Bush administration on foreign policy. Nonetheless, local Bush lackey Rep. John Sweeney (R-Clifton Park) was quick to denounce the legislation in a recent issue of The Record, claiming the terrorists benefit from such a timetable, there still isn’t proof that Iraq wasn’t hiding weapons of mass destruction and the war is really about spreading peace and freedom.

Hurricane? What Hurricane?

It wasn’t a reading of My Pet Goat that held up emergency efforts this time around, but administration officials were still having a grand old time while Hurricane Katrina was wreaking havoc in the South, according to recent reports. The president spent the days following Katrina’s arrival giving a prowar speech in San Diego and posing for photos with country music singer Mark Wills before heading back to Washington on Aug. 31—more than two full days after the hurricane struck the coast. Vice President Dick Cheney didn’t return from his Wyoming vacation until Sept. 3, and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice spent the aftermath of the hurricane taking in a Broadway musical, playing tennis with Monica Seles and shopping for shoes on Fifth Avenue. Of course, with this sort of response, it’s no wonder that FEMA chief Michael Brown wasn’t aware of the thousands of evacuees living—and dying—in the New Orleans convention center, despite widespread media coverage of their plight.



Overheard

Overheard:

"So I gave him $50 for 'cheese' from Vermont, and he brought back $50 worth of actual cheese! It was damn good cheese though."

—late night at the Old Songs Festival campground



History on the Wing

photo:Chris Shields

Visitors checked out the World War II-era B-17 “Flying Fortress” named Aluminum Overcast on Aug. 31 at the Empire State Aerosciences Museum. Although it’s being touted as a Word War II plane, it was delivered too late to see action that war. It has instead served as a cargo hauler and an aerial mapping platform, and in pest-control and forest-dusting applications, before being restored for use as a “living reminder of World War II aviation.” Aluminum Overcast commemorates B-17G #42-102515, which was shot down on its 34th combat mission over Le Manior, France, on Aug. 13, 1944. The plane is available for flights as well as tours.

 

Better Late Than Never

photo:Alicia Solsman

(l-r) Albany treasurer candidate Ward DeWitt, Ward 8 council candidate Bob Sheehan, and Ward 11 council candidate Peter Caracappa signed the League of Women Voters fair campaign pledge on Tuesday at the Citizen Action office. Other Albany city candidates present who also signed the pledge were: Common Council president candidate Shawn Morris, City Court judge candidate Fernande Rossetti, Ward 1 Councilman Dominick Calsolero, Ward 2 Councilwoman Carolyn McLaughlin, Ward 3 council candidate Corey Ellis, Ward 4 council candidate Barbara Smith, and Ward 7 council candidate Cathy Fahey. The pledge includes promises to avoid negative campaigning, misrepresentation and anonymous campaign materials.

Loose Ends

Charter reform may well be headed for the ballot in Albany, as a judge yesterday reversed State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Spargo’s Aug. 25 disqualification of 316 signatures on the Albany Civic Agenda’s petitions [“Out of Left Field,” Newsfront, Sept. 1]. Albany Civic Agenda is heading to the Albany Common Council meeting tonight (Thursday, Sept. 8), which is the deadline for the council to approve putting the measures on the November ballot. A majority of council members have said they would vote to put the measures on the ballot if the petitions were shown to have enough qualifying signatures. . . . Families of people in prison are appealing a dismissal of their lawsuit seeking to prohibit the state and MCI from charging them more than seven times consumer phone rates in order to speak with their incarcerated family members [“1-800-CASH-COW,” Newsfront, Sept. 25, 2003]. State Supreme Court Judge George Ceresia dismissed the case, saying it was filed too late. The Family Connections Bill, which would provide prisoners with fair-market telephone rates, passed the Assembly this year, but didn’t get out of committee in the Senate. Ron Daniels, director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, noted that criminal-justice experts agree that contact with loved ones makes it easier for prisoners to successfully reenter society.



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