Chicago schools are asked to limit military recruiters' access to students

By Karoun Demirjian

Tribune staff reporter

12:15 AM CST, December 11, 2007

When it comes to recruiting in public schools, the legal standard is that the military should be treated “the same” as everyone else.

But at a forum held Monday by the Chicago Board of Education to field public comment on a new policy regulating recruiters’ access to students, the parents and teachers had a uniform message: Pass tougher rules to restrain the military’s reach in Chicago Public Schools.

The proposed policy, which the board is expected to vote on Dec. 19, addresses rules for all recruiters, military or not, requiring them to get the permission of a principal no later than 48 hours before they wish come to a school, and to operate only in areas set by the principal.

But the policy does not limit recruiters to career fairs or set any systemwide standard for the frequency with which recruiters are allowed to visit schools or their freedom of movement on campus. The policy also makes no reference to whether recruiters can access students in classrooms during scheduled class time—a restriction in several metropolitan school districts nationwide.

That concerns many parents, who fear that because the military’s budget for recruitment far outpaces that of colleges and trade schools, uniformed recruiters could take advantage of loopholes in the policy.

“As the year goes on, they’re there every day,” said William Lamme, a history teacher at Thomas Kelly High School and father of two Chicago high school graduates. “I see them developing relationships with the kids, so it’s like you’re being recruited by your friends.”

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, signed in 2002, schools must provide military recruiters with the same access to students that is provided to other educational institutions, or the schools risk losing funding.

The act also requires schools to make students’ names, addresses and telephone numbers available to recruiters. Parents and students can opt out of this requirement, but only about 12 percent of public school students in Grades 10 to 12 have done so.

Though the change in policy would not change that act’s requirements, military officials say the proposal still would hinder recruitment efforts.

“It limits access, so we’ll have to find different ways of reaching people,” said Luis Agostini, a spokesman for the Marines. Even with more favorable rules adopted in 2002, he said, it’s a struggle to meet recruitment quotas every year. “It’s not the draft anymore—it’s their choice.”

But critics argue that the military has been given more than enough room to influence those decisions.

With five military high schools, nearly three dozen high school-based Junior ROTC programs and 20 Middle School Cadet Corps programs, Chicago Public Schools boasts the largest junior military reserve program in the country.

About 50 people attended Monday’s meeting at the district headquarters in the Loop.