August 2, 2009

Nebraska Schools guilty of child endangerment?

Are Marilyn Moore, assistant superintendent for instruction for the Lincoln Public Schools, & other administrators endangering children?

I was reading an article from the Omaha World-Herald about the Nebraska schools "burying" the military recruiter opt-out information in the student handbook rather than notifying the students and parents directly.

The Nebraska ACLU was notifying the administrators of every school district in the State about their "obligation to inform parents of their privacy rights". [see letter below]

Because of the federal No Child Left Behind Act the schools believe that they need to give the children's personal information to the military recruiters unless they opt out. However sometimes the opt-outs still end up on the recruiters list. Thanks to some of the vigilant parents who are concerned about the relationship between their kids and the recruiters, the ACLU has become aware of the lack of administrative adherence to the rules placed on the families.

According to the World-Herald article:
Amy Miller, ACLU legal director:
a parent of a child in the Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) had to search the handbook to discover the opt-out process. The parent filed a form to exclude his child and nonetheless got recruiting calls.
The military recruiter confirmed that in this case, with LPS at least, that he had the master list that they'd sent him and the student was on there,” she said.
Although officials in the Lincoln district may have made “a good faith mistake,” that instance and others prompted her to send the letters.
Marilyn Moore, assistant superintendent for instruction for the Lincoln Public Schools:
“I think we certainly would make every effort,” Moore said. “We do our best to be accurate. I also know that with 10,000 seniors we could have missed something.”
She said the district is required to notify parents for multiple programs, including eligibility for free- and reduced-price lunches, fee waivers and “probably 20 or 30 other things.”
The district doesn't send a letter each time.
“It's a lot of mailings, it's a lot of postage, and it's a lot for people to keep track of if they're getting every other day about another piece of information,” she said.
Instead, for nearly 20 years the district has included all legally required notices, discipline policies and other essential information in one booklet, which parents are more likely to keep, she said.
Some Lincoln community members have asked if the district should take more affirmative action to notify parents, but Moore said:
it's her understanding that that isn't required by the law.
Bellevue Public Schools also puts the information in the student handbook.
“They have to sign that they received a copy of the handbook,” district spokeswoman Cathy Williams said. “The students get a copy and the parents get a copy.”
Her district, which has a high enrollment of military children because of its proximity to Offutt Air Force Base, prefers to consolidate essential information rather than “send out things piecemeal.”
The district works closely with the military to give children the widest range of options for their future, she said.
“We've cooperated for years. That's who we are, and that's our community. We work with our recruiters all the time, just like we work with the colleges and universities. It may not be the right thing for all students, but it's one more option.”
While Cathy Williams claims that "The district works closely with the military to give children the widest range of options for their future", what has she done to expand their options that doesn't include teaching the children to kill other humans and training them to fill military job slots? What does the district do to protect them from the opportunistic recruiters? Although not all the recruiters are of this ilk, we know that many, especially during the current economic crisis, promise the kids opportunities that aren't going to happen and none of them can guarantee anything the recruits sign up for.

Marilyn Moore of the Lincoln Public Schools says about notifying each family,
"It's a lot of mailings, it's a lot of postage".
Is she actually suggesting that they want to save a postage stamp for a child's life. Doesn't sound like a bargain for the families who love their children and fund the districts. It sounds more like child endangerment to me. Hopefully the parents and students will organize to see that every student in their school is aware of the opt-out opportunity - and take advantage of it. Then they should follow up.

The kids can contact a recruiter if that is what they want to do anytime.

-thanks to the Omaha World-Herald

ACLU Letter sent to school administrators in Nebraska

Dear School Administrator:

Since the fall semester is approaching, we write to provide you with accurate information about your obligations when it comes to military recruiting and to inform you of various options available to you and your staff to protect the privacy interests of your students. We also are available to answer questions or to provide you with additional assistance.

As you presumably know, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires school districts to take certain actions with respect to efforts by the United States military to recruit high-school students.

1. Schools Cannot Release Any Information Before Offering Students and Families the Opportunity to Object- Prior to any disclosure of directory information under NCLB, a school must advise students and their parents that they may object to the disclosure of directory information without written parental consent and the school may not release student directory information if the student or parent objects.

2. Schools Cannot Release Information about Former Students- NCLB does not authorize the release of directory information except with respect to those students who are currently enrolled in your high school.

3. Schools Cannot Release Information about any Student Who Is Not a Senior or Junior- The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Defense have restricted NCLB military recruiter access to information concerning only those students who are seventeen years of age or older or are in the eleventh grade or higher.

4. Schools Cannot Release Students E-mail addresses, Ages or Birthdates- NCLB permits military recruiter access only to student names, addresses and telephone numbers.

5. Schools Are Not Required by the Statutes to Employ an "Opt-Out" Procedure- Though many schools have chosen an "opt-out" approach to military recruitment, some have implemented ""opt-in"" procedures. The ACLU Nebraska believes that the laws permit school personnel to choose either procedure. Whether it chooses an "opt-in" or an "opt-out" procedure, every school must notify students and/or parents of their rights and give them the opportunity either to permit or to block disclosure of student directory information to military recruiters. The school must then compile the positive responses and give the information to the arm of the military that has requested it. As long as the school provides a list of names, addresses and phone numbers to the military, it is in compliance with ACLU Nebraska.

6. Schools Are Not Required to Adopt an "All or Nothing" Approach to Disclosure of Student Directory Information- Federal law requires only that parents and students be given the opportunity to withhold their information from military recruiters and does not address the issue of disclosing student directory information to any other third party -- including colleges. Accordingly, even schools employing opt-out procedures can and should allow students to opt-out of only military recruiting.

7. Schools Must Allow a Reasonable Amount of Time to Respond - Schools should respond within a reasonable time that permits notice and exercise of students' and parents' rights to opt into or out of disclosure. The ACLU Nebraska urges you to protect the privacy of your students by setting up user-friendly procedures that notify students and their families of their rights under NCLB and makes it easy for them to control the disclosure of their student directory information. The following measures would go a long way towards accomplishing these goals:

8. Students May Opt Out, Not Just Parents - Students should be notified that students, as well as their parents, can choose to withhold their contact information from recruiters without prior written parental consent. Simple forms can be distributed for students to fill out in class. Students should also be given forms to bring home to a parent. Parents report that they find it most effective if they are sent an actual form to advise them of their privacy rights. We urge you to affirmatively provide the information to parents in a manner that is designed to draw attention to their rights rather than simply "burying" the information. A sample form is included with this letter as a model.

Finally, I should advise you that a school that releases private student information against the wishes of a parent who has completed an "opt out" form runs the risk of liability under both civil rights and tort law. Therefore, we strongly encourage you to review procedures to ensure that the information conveyed to military recruiters is limited as described above and omits all families who have requested an "opt out."

Please feel free to contact us if you have questions.

-thanks to the Nebraska ACLU

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