After more than a year’s deliberation, the Pinellas School Board on Tuesday granted access to groups wishing to present alternatives to military service to high school students.
The decision means that after a 21/2-year ban, antiwar groups such as Veterans for Peace will be allowed on Pinellas County high school campuses – as long as their intent is to present an alternative to the message delivered by military recruiters.
The board’s adoption of an “access to students” policy, which came after several draft versions, makes Pinellas the first large district in the state to approve such a plan, School Board attorney Jim Robinson said.
“What you see now,” Robinson said, “is a much simplified rule that simply states that to the same extent that military recruiters are granted access to students, so will persons who seek to propose alternative post-secondary careers and opportunities.”
The new policy includes several caveats, which apply to all individuals or groups seeking access to students, including college and military recruiters.
Visits must be scheduled in advance with school administrators. No more than two visitors can meet with students at one time without permission from the principal.
Meetings can take place before and after school and at lunch time only, and all visitors must wear district-issued identification badges while on campus.
The policy also gives principals the right to deny access to any group or individual who “becomes disruptive.”
That was a sticking point with some members of Veterans for Peace, the group that brought the question of student access to the district in April 2006. Several wanted the policy to be more specific regarding what activities qualified as “disruptive,” fearing visitors could be arbitrarily dismissed without just cause.
Nevertheless, Veterans for Peace member Linda Hubner said she was thrilled with the board’s unanimous decision to approve the access policy.
“This is what we’ve wanted all along,” Hubner said, “the chance to give kids the information they need to make life and death decisions.”
Two years ago, Pinellas officials denied the group access to students, saying the veterans’ message didn’t correspond with school goals. The group had cited legal precedent that it would constitute “viewpoint discrimination.”