Military Recruiters, Parents Battle at High School

Maj. Forrest Poole is used to taking fire: He was in Iraq, and now he's been in front of the Seattle School Board.

Outraged parents in Seattle helped push through new rules restricting military recruiters in school -- specifically, rules that put organizations opposed to the military on campus at the same time as recruiters.

"I just want to make sure when the recruiters are here, that we're given an opportunity to speak with students and they're given an opportunity to speak with us," Poole says. "We don't want a student to feel like he or she cannot come up and talk to Sgt. Matthews because there's some other people … who may be intimidating, harassing or bullying."

It is an increasingly time-consuming issue for military recruiters who are fighting to keep some of their most prized territory.

The opposition does not come from outraged students, but their Vietnam-era parents.

"We're trying to let people know about this," says one of the parents, Kurt Kutay, "because the school district hasn't done its job to inform the community."

A provision in the federal No Child Left Behind Act, signed in 2002, requires schools to give military recruiters the same access and information as college recruiters -- meaning home phone numbers and addresses.

"The school is going to turn your name over to the military," Kutay says.

'Very Vulnerable Age'

A group of parents in Seattle says most families don't have a clue the new law exists. And they argue that schools have done a poor job letting parents know there is an alternative -- that schools must provide the so-called opt-out forms that give students the chance to withhold their information from the military.

"When it comes to education, I think the colleges have the right to contact the students," says Linda Summers, a parent. "I'm not sure that the military should have the same right."

Despite the increased access, the military has had a tough time meeting recruiting targets. The Army has achieved only 92 percent of its goal. The Army National Guard, 80 percent. The Army Reserve, 84 percent. While the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps met their targets, the continuing casualties from the war in Iraq -- now past 2,000 dead and 15,000 injured -- have made recruiting more difficult.

Ann Kutay, a co-organizer of the parents' group, believes recruiters use heavy-handed tactics to take advantage of kids.

"They're at a very vulnerable age in their lives, and especially when kids are being targeted -- kids who may not be doing as well in school are targeted by a military recruiter, who tells them they can be a helicopter pilot," she says.

Multi-Pronged Attack

The opt-out forms are only the beginning of a much larger movement to restrict when, where and how military recruiters can operate. The battle lines in this fight are clear: They are the walls of America's high schools.

It is a multi-pronged attack. The accusations include pressure tactics.

Brenna Cole, a student, says she was advised to hide medical problems in order to join.

"I'm against what I call fraudulent recruiting," she says, "because I now have a fraudulent listing on my record. And it was because my recruiter advised me to lie."

And there are charges of racism.

Dustin Washington, a community activist, believes recruiters target students with lower incomes and minorities. He meets with high school students off-campus, during lunch hour, to encourage them to be wary of recruiters.

Schools in the Middle

Caught between the two sides are the schools. Principal David Golden sometimes has recruiters in his school twice a week.

"We set up a table near our cafeteria, and they man that table during the lunchtimes," Golden says. "And we do a similar thing with certain colleges that come in locally."

Despite the controversy, some students are very interested.

Marine Maj. Poole denies the allegation that his recruiters target specific groups or act anything but professional. And he says putting restrictions on recruiting will ultimately hurt everyone.

"If that access is to be limited or denied, I'm afraid the carry-over would be that the all-volunteer force may not be as capable, as professional as it could be," he says. "Ultimately, our goal is to maintain the standards of this force, to make sure we're finding the most qualified men and women who want to serve."

It is not an easy job or an easy issue for schools to referee. But referee, they must, because as one recruiter recently made plans for his next visit, the class just down the hall listened to a guest speaker warning them about recruiters.

ABCNEWS' Neal Karlinsky originally reported this story for "Nightline" on Oct. 25, 2005.

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