Ann Smith couldn’t walk more than 50-feet to the front door of her son’s high school before counter-recruiting volunteers approached her.
With yellow and white fliers in hand, a volunteer walked backwards and quizzed Smith on new mandates restricting military recruiters while she headed to the school.
“Are you a parent of a student?” asked Mary Ann Preston, a volunteer with United for Peace’s counter-recruiting efforts. Smith nodded yes and mentioned her son, who attends the school for a law program.
“His information will be sent to military recruiters unless you sign the opt-out form,” the volunteer said.
But Smith already knew.
She filed forms with Louis Brandeis High at the beginning of the school year restricting the military recruiters from obtaining her son’s name, phone number and address; a privilege to which the armed services are entitled under the No Child Left Behind Act.
This school year is the first New York City schools have provided opt-out forms to forgo having student’s personal information sent to military recruiters. For years, counter-recruiters including the New York Civil Liberties Union, Grannies for Peace Brigade and other non-profits have galvanized uptown communities against military recruiters in schools.
Smith said she had heard about the forms from the school, but still felt a need for disseminating more information as military recruiters unfairly target minorities and youth in what they consider impoverished areas of uptown.
“They approach them first and talk about higher education,” she said. “That’s why I keep filling out the opt-out form.”
Military recruiters crossed boundaries as some began to pitch their services during classes and others began to call students more aggressively, Smith said, and that’s what caused people to speak out.
With the backing of local politicians, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein amended statutes to include the opt-out provision that restricted recruiter’s access to students in school and those who wanted privacy.
Although the statute was passed in May, organizations with United for Peace said that many high schools didn’t provide the opt-out forms to parents. The groups united and on Oct. 29, they attended parent-teacher nights at 45 New York City schools and delivered counter-recruiting pamphlets and information fliers about the new statute.
Louis Brandeis High was only one location of many where the organizations actively pushed counter-recruiting measures with Erica Braudy, a New York Civil Liberties Union lawyer as she spearheaded efforts early in the school year.
“We’re not against the Army and we’re not against the military,” she said of the continuing counter recruiting efforts. “It’s a good plan. But everything should be out in front.”
After delivering counter-recruiting information directly to high school students, Braudy said in years past numerous reports were filed stating that recruiters sponsored extracurricular activities to glamorize the armed forces.
The events, she said, were in addition to using class time to make pitches and using private information to aggressively pursue students.
“Our job is to make sure there are good policies in the school so the military doesn’t have free range,” Braudy said after she spoke with members of the Granny Peace Brigade and divided pamphlets.
The Granny Peace Brigade also participated in a protest outside the Harlem Recruiting Office on 125 Street and Lenox after organizing demonstrations with the Civil Liberties Union.
Protesters, behind an iron gate at the recruiting office, yelled into bull horns as they handed out fliers to passersby. But the recruiting office was empty.
“When we see protests, we just leave,” said one Army recruiter, Sgt. Eric Richardson. “It’s not that serious.”
Richardson said he was accustomed to protests and other demonstrations, some of which begin peacefully but escalate into riots where he’s been called a “pimp” and “flesh-peddler.”
Although organizations have increased their counter-recruiting efforts, he said, most of the Army’s recruits aren’t high school students. In the past two years, five recruits in the uptown area were from high schools, he said.
Many students who even show interest in the military can’t pass the standardized test to be considered and don’t meet strict physical standards, Richardson said.
“The intent is not just to recruit seniors but anyone we feel could benefit the Army,” he said.
But to strengthen a positive presence in the community and hopefully increase a number of qualified recruits, Richardson said the Army has created afterschool tutoring programs and websites for uptown high schools. The programs and websites aren’t just for military purposes, but to also increase test scores and aid education, Richardson said.
Alicia Henderson, parent of a freshman at Brandeis High, said she would allow her son, Nikai, to consider the military even after reading counter-recruiting documents but only after he graduates from high school.
Nikai said he’s not considering the military as an option but hasn’t seen any recruiters in his school or classrooms.
Still, Henderson said the military shouldn’t approach students while they’re in high school.
“That’s the parents’ decision,” she said as she accepted counter-recruiting pamphlets. “He’s a minor.”