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Wednesday, June 08, 2005 | By MARSHA SUTTON

In case you thought the No Child Left Behind Act was all about education, beware of tiny clauses embedded in the layers of testing and accountability legalese.

A group called Military Free Zone wants to alert the public to a little-known provision in George W. Bush’s NCLB Act that allows military recruiters to gather private contact information on all public high school students. Organizers offer tips on how to resist recruiters and how to take action against what they call an invasion of privacy.

Although slightly over the top with sinister, conspiratorial messages, the group’s Web site includes an “opt-out” form that students can fill out and turn in to their high schools. This form lets students retain their privacy rights when the military comes to call at the school.

I had heard about this issue two years ago and remembered it when we filled out forms for my older son at the beginning of the school year. On one form, there is a tiny place parents can sign that asks the school not to release their child’s private information. So I signed it.

Later that year, the student directory came out and my son’s name was not listed. The reason? I opted out on the form way back in the fall.

Now the forms have a specific place where you can opt out just for the military, which I overlooked this year.

So a few weeks ago we visited the Military Free Zone Web site, printed the form, completed it and turned it in to my son’s high school. That day, I received a call from an administrator at the school who told me it was too late this year, that the military had already retrieved all the private information on the school’s students. But she assured me that my son’s personal data would not be released to recruiters in the future because he had turned in this form and opted out.

Until I received that phone call, I hadn’t given the issue much thought. I figured the military will find the kids if it wants to, whether they opt out or not.

But I encouraged my son to complete the form because children should be aware of their government’s policies and how those policies and laws can affect and sometimes intrude upon everyday lives. It’s also important for kids, often engrossed in their own private universe, to take responsibility for their future and make decisions that involve them in the greater world around them, so they can be engaged in something larger than family, school and community.

But when I heard this administrator say that all private student information had already been released to the military, I felt a tingling in my spine.

They really are doing this, I thought – military recruiters now have my son’s personal information. She said I shouldn’t worry, because he’s only a freshman. She said it’s not until they are juniors that the recruiters get aggressive. And by then, he’ll have opted out for two years and the military would have to go back to his freshman year to get his data.

I wasn’t reassured.

On the same subject, a flyer came my way recently, from the North County Coalition for Peace and Justice. This group’s premise is that there will be a military draft soon, and Bush is simply lying when he publicly denies the inevitable.

NCCPJ people base this recurring notion upon statistics suggesting that enlistments are at an all-time low. They say the war in Iraq is straining our all-volunteer army and that experts predict 10 more years of military involvement in the Middle East. NCCPJ believes a draft is all but certain and that it will be harder to avoid the draft today than in years past.

“Historically, the military draft provided a few loopholes,” reads the NCCPJ notice. “Such exemptions as gender and education are now gone … The only legal way to avoid the draft will be through Conscientious Objector status. Young people will need to provide their local draft board with convincing verification of a long-held personal peace belief.”

They suggest that parents begin “taking your children and your camera to peace events so you can get photos of them in that context” and document that peace “has been an integral part of their child’s upbringing.”

Last month, the group held a peace demonstration in Oceanside and paid tribute to the 1,600 men and women who have died in Iraq to date. Photos taken of children at this event “could very well save them from the same sad fate,” organizers said, encouraging families to begin building “peace profiles” for their kids.

Alarmist? Perhaps. Nevertheless, the NCCPJ has tapped into a very real fear many parents have about this war and how it may one day affect their own middle- and high-school children.

Those who support the U.S. military operation in Iraq won’t mind, I’m sure, that recruiters are actively looking at their kids’ private information and intend to pursue them aggressively for military service. And they won’t be doing all they can to build a case for Conscientious Objector status for their kids.

As for those opposed to the war, many are beginning to realize that activity half a world away may come knocking at their front door in just a few years’ time. Some will be confronting their own personal demons, if they are old enough to have lived through the turbulent Vietnam War days. Others will struggle to come to terms with the true definition of patriotism, when supporting your country may mean sending your own beloved child off to a war that should never have been fought in a country that posed no threat to our national security.

As the anti-war activists say, having the courage to fight for and defend an America truly in danger is quite different from having the courage to refuse to fight an immoral or illegal war. Patriotism is never in question.

Please contact Marsha Sutton directly at

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