In danger of losing about $10 million in federal education funds, the Berkeley school district has changed a last-of-its kind policy and now requires all students who do not want contact with military recruiters to sign an “opt out” form.
The district changed the policy earlier this month under pressure from the Department of Defense, which called Superintendent Michele Lawrence with the news that Berkeley High School was the last high school in the nation not in compliance with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act.
The act says school districts must turn over the names, phone numbers and addresses of junior and senior students to military recruiters unless parents or students sign an “opt-out” form.
Previously, Berkeley students, unlike those in other districts, would have to sign an “opt in” form if they wanted personal information released to military recruiters.
“I think it makes a big difference if people can opt out or not ’cause it’s good to give people the choice if they want to be contacted by the military or not,” said Rio Bauce, a 17-year-old Berkeley High junior on the city’s Youth Commission.
In a recent letter to parents, Lawrence said the district always has refused to divulge student contact information to all organizations — from the PTA and booster clubs to colleges and even the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, when it was doing work near schools and needed to contact students.
“It’s been very important to the board
that we don’t give out personal information for students without direct permission from students,” said school district spokesman Mark Coplan.
U.S. Army Sgt. Luis Green, a recruiter in San Leandro, said the “opt out” forms are not always the most foolproof recruiting tool because students often forget to sign them and then their information is funneled to the military even if the student has no interest in enlisting.
“You can’t win with some people,” Green said. “Some people don’t get involved the right way and they wait until you call them at the house and then they cuss you out.”
It is not surprising in Berkeley — home of the Nuclear Free Zone and former war activist mom Cindy Sheehan — only 16 to 27 of the roughly 3,000 Berkeley High students had signed an “opt in” form over the past few years, Coplan said.
With the new policy in place, juniors and seniors received the forms during a school assembly last week. Already, about 90 percent of them have already opted out, Coplan said. Volunteers are following up with the remaining 10 percent to make sure they received a form.
“At the end of the day, we’ll be able to say we’ve queried 100 percent of the students and based on that — here are the names, addresses and phone numbers we give up,” Coplan said.
The move to change the policy came after a representative from the office of the undersecretary of defense called Lawrence to report that Berkeley was the only school in the nation not complying with the law.
Additionally, state officials, which assume the responsibility for compliance from the federal government, called to say the Berkeley school district was breaking the law.
But long-time school board member John Selawsky said the “opt in” system was working just fine.