Do US High Schools Bar Military Recruiters? Activists Try to Call Pentagon’s Bluff

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Master-at-Arms 1st Class Jackie Lascala, a recruiter assigned to Navy Talent Acquisition Group Pittsburg, speaks to students about opportunities in the Navy. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication 2nd Class Kyle Hafer)
Master-at-Arms 1st Class Jackie Lascala, a recruiter assigned to Navy Talent Acquisition Group Pittsburg, speaks to students about opportunities in the Navy. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication 2nd Class Kyle Hafer)

Peace activists are offering $2,000 to a high school that admits it prevents U.S. military recruiters from entering its campus -- an effort, they say, to discredit military leaders who claim that 1,100 high schools nationwide are barring recruiters from schools.

Author and anti-war activist David Swanson and Pat Elder, director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, are asking schools that deny access to military recruiters to post a video online with the hashtag #recruiterfree school, "explaining why your school keeps out military recruiters."

The two will award one of the schools $2,000 to organize an education day focused on peace and non-military related careers.

Swanson said the offer was made to challenge what he described as a falsehood perpetuated by senior military leaders: that schools are keeping recruiters out.

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In February, Army Secretary Mark Esper said that, after falling short in meeting recruiting goals in 2018, the service launched a major recruiting campaign in 22 cities but was finding that "schools are not letting our recruiters in, or counselors are not even presenting as an opportunity the chance to serve your country."

Addressing members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in December, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer described an "excess of 1,100 schools and districts that deny access to uniform members to recruit on campuses," mainly in the northeast and northwestern United States, he said.

And Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green in January said there are "just some places where we are not allowed to recruit."

"I'd like to see a more open-door process. In some high schools, there is just no entry point," Green said at a forum on military readiness at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

But Swanson and Elder say they can't find any schools that restrict access and add that the Defense Department has not provided a list of schools. Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, public high schools that accept federal funds must give recruiters the same access to students as employers and colleges.

"A number of organizations can't find any evidence to prove that it is happening. If schools were doing this, it would be in violation of federal law," Swanson said.

Interpretation of the law can vary by school and district. Access may mean direct contact and freedom to approach students on campus or in classrooms, or it may be tightly controlled, restricted to requiring direct appointments only and limiting distribution of information.

It also may be limited to offsite events such as college fairs.

A Defense Department spokeswoman said Thursday that problems sometimes arise when recruiters are not provided the type of access they believe they should have to meet their recruiting goals, and schools provide only minimum access under the law.

But sometimes schools are actually not in compliance, Pentagon public affairs officer Jessica Maxwell said. According to Maxwell, the Office of the Secretary of Defense reviews the status of school access twice a year and, if any schools are found not to be in compliance, they receive a visit from a senior-level officer. If problems continue, a SecDef representative will contact either the school or the state's board of education.

Maxwell added that the 1,100 schools Spencer discussed were largely in New York City. The Navy, she said, has since worked with the Chancellor of the New York City Schools to restore access.

Currently, no schools in the U.S. are non-compliant, she said.

Swanson said the services are having trouble recruiting because of low unemployment and the unpopularity of "participating in endless brutal wars that serve no clear purpose, increase hostility to the United States and leave participants at heightened risk of death, physical injury, brain damage, post-traumatic stress disorder, moral injury, violent crime, homelessness and suicide."

Both Elder and Swanson favor restricting the release of student information to the DoD and support a ban on military recruiting in schools. "[Recruiters] should not be there," Swanson said. "It's illegal to recruit minors into the military. And even if they are talking to people who are 18, much of what they are doing is targeted to people under age 18."

Green said students have the right to consider a career in the military and believes recruiters should be allowed to speak with them.

"There are people that want to serve in the military. I don't think any door should be slammed shut or closed. There should be limits about when we come in; we can work with that," Green said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Miltiary.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

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