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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 17, 2004

Concerns raised over school privacy notice

 •  Privacy notice allows a choice

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Education Writer

Sybil Arum's eighth-grade granddaughter came home this week worried that she was on the verge of being drafted by the military and sent off to war.

The reason for her fear was the Department of Education's annual privacy notice, which says contact information for secondary students as young as sixth-graders may be released to military recruiters unless the student, parent or legal guardian requests otherwise.

Arum, who is the child's guardian, quickly determined that her granddaughter was not being shipped off to Iraq, but became alarmed anyway.

"I'm very upset with the age level that this policy encompasses," she said.

DOE and U.S. Department of Defense officials, however, stress that the military is only interested in students who are 17 and older and will not be following up with students as young as sixth-graders.

"We don't just automatically release (the information to recruiters); it would have to be on request," said DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen. "Recruiters have told us that their interest is in juniors and seniors."

The privacy form, which also includes other disclosure information, goes to all public school students across the state. Many schools have sent the form out; at others, it is making its way to homes this week.

The form has been sent out for years as part of routine DOE information gathering to be used in the release of such things as honors and awards.

But this is only the second year that it has included the notice of potential disclosure to the military.

The release of information is part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires all school systems receiving NCLB money to make the contact information available to military recruiters or risk losing federal money. The law also requires schools to give military recruiters the same on-campus access they would give to prospective employers, colleges and other post-secondary education institutions.

Because private schools are not affected by NCLB, Arum is concerned that only public school students will be included in the recruiters' databases.

"Who are the military going to call on first?" she asked. "The kids that are going to be in that file are public school kids, not the private school kids."

Middle-school principals reached yesterday declined to comment on the issue, but said no recruiters had ever requested information on their students in sixth through eighth grade.

"In some way, this (form) might be needlessly alarming people," DOE's Knudsen acknowledged. However, he noted that there have not been widespread complaints.

Maj. Chuck Anthony, spokesman for the state Department of Defense, confirmed that no one under the age of 17 should receive recruitment materials.

In fact, he added that if younger students request information about enlisting, the recruiters tell them to come back when they turn 17.

Further, even if students' information is released to recruiters, this does not obligate them to do anything.

"If the mother is that concerned or the daughter is uninterested, all they have to do is say no," Anthony said. "It's not like a sheriff comes with a summons and says, 'You've been served.' "

Paul Vierling, the Hawai'i Parent Teacher Student Association's community relations specialist, said concern over having information released to the military is unfounded. "I don't see any problem with it," he said.

Countries that require military service have seen positive outcomes on their society because the military teaches the importance of community service, giving back and making contributions, Vierling said.

But parents who don't agree can just request that their children's information be kept private. "If people don't want their information shared, I think that's fine, as long as they have the choice," said Vierling.

Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the DOE is required to send home a notice every year that includes several types of disclosures, including that student contact information could be given to military recruiters.

Knudsen said the notice sent home this year was similar to the one last year, when the notice about release of information to military recruiters was more prominent.

Arum said she regularly requests that her child's information be withheld, but does not remember the military recruiter part from last year. She suspects that other parents could miss it as well, unless they carefully read the form.

"It can be very intimidating and confusing for someone who is not going to read the whole thing," she said.

She said kids are confused because they think if they do not allow their information to be disclosed, they won't be able to appear in the yearbook.

Lois Perrin, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the issue came up last year when it turned out that information was released to recruiters about students who specifically asked that it be withheld.

She said the DOE has since rectified the problem and is adjusting the way nondisclosure statements are handled.

By next year, in addition to the annual disclosure notice, a separate notice will be mailed to secondary students and their parents or guardians specifically on releasing information to military recruiters and how to opt out.

School administrators will be asked for written verification that both notices were distributed.

In addition, the nondisclosure requests from the previous year will be retained until this school year's requests are processed.

Perrin, who is concerned about privacy issues for public school students, said the ideal process would be to have student opt in if they want their contact information released.

However, Knudsen said NCLB stipulates that the parents or students must initiate the request to restrict disclosure.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8014.

• • •

Privacy notice allows a choice

Every year, the Department of Education issues a privacy notice to the parents of all public school students about their rights regarding the release of their children's education records to the DOE registry.

Parents and guardians are given the opportunity to keep their children out of the directory, which includes the student's name; date and place of birth; address; phone number; dates of attendance; class level; major field of study; participation in officially recognized activities; sports, weight and height if member of an athletic team; awards received; graduation date; and most recent previous educational agency or institution attended.

The information is generally used to release information on honors or awards received and on participation in officially recognized activities, according to the DOE.

Parents who do not want their children's personal and contact information included in the DOE directory or given to military recruiters may complete a "Non-Disclosure of Directory Information and/or Release of Information to Military Recruiters" form, which is sent home with students each year.

The DOE may release information 10 working days after the form goes home, unless parents or the student request that it be withheld. However, the form can still be submitted after the deadline.

Contact your child's school for information on how to get the nondisclosure form.