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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

DOE gives information to the military that it denies to Parent Associations

According to today’s New York Post, the NYC Department of Education has now decided to give the military unfettered access to the contact information of all high school juniors and seniors, including their names, addresses and telephone numbers, instead of having them canvass each high school separately. Students have only until Friday to opt out of this process.

This is apparently the DOE’s response to a report released last year, from the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Manhattan Borough President’s office, detailing the abusive and disruptive presence of military recruiters in many NYC public high schools.

See also today’s press release from the NYCLU:

On Sept. 16, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein issued a policy directive to principals that streamlined the process for providing military recruiters the personal information of all 11th and 12th grade students at the city’s public high schools. The policy changes were made unilaterally and without any public input, despite the enormous implications to children’s privacy. Under the new policy, students have until Friday to submit opt-out forms to have their information withheld from military recruiters.

Yet at the same time that the DOE officials appear willing to hand over student contact information to the military, they deny this same information to any and all Parent Associations who would like to get in touch with other parents at their children’s schools, to invite them to PA meetings or fundraisers, or provide other information to encourage parent involvement in schoolwide events.

Strangely, both policies are based on the tortured interpretation of the same federal law by Michael Best, the DOE’s chief attorney --the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA.

In general, this law provides that schools must have written permission from a parent or student in order to release any information from a student's education record. However, according to the official FERPA website of the U.S. Department of Education:

Schools may disclose, without consent, "directory" information such as a student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them.

The DOE apparently claims this law allows them the right to hand over our kids’ contact information to the military, which would like to ship them off to Iraq.

But even as the DOE is making it easier for the military to recruit our children for war, Best has interpreted this same provision to mean that giving parents the opportunity to opt out of releasing their contact information to a Parents’ Association is not sufficient.

Instead, he has ruled that PAs must get prior written consent from their members to possess their contact information. (Kind of a Catch 22, don’t you think?) In other words, the opt-out provision that is good enough for the military is not good enough for PAs. Only an affirmative opt-in will do. This is how the DOE "encourages" parental involvement!

As a high school parent, I haven’t received any opt out forms, and yet the deadline is supposedly Friday. The NYCLU has asked the DOE to extend the deadline by a month and to begin a 30-day public comment period before implementing the Sept. 16 directive:

“The DOE is giving military recruiters a direct line to New York City’s children. This new policy gives the military access to students that colleges, trade schools and prospective employers never had…To make these changes in secret without parent or public input shows a startling disregard for open government and the privacy rights of parents and children.”

The DOE opt-out forms are available here.

For more information on how students and parents can be informed of their right to opt out of the military recruitment process, check out the Brooklyn Parents for Peace and the War Resisters League

--Ellen Bilofsky

Correction: Release of information to the military is mandated by this provision of (surprise!) No Child Left Behind, not FERPA. This doesn't change the fact that the DOE is making it easier for the military to obtain our children's contact information, and harder for the PAs to get in touch with their parents


lorri said...

Parents really need to understand that buried within NCLB is the stipulation that the military will be granted access to their childrens information unless the parents opt out. If a school district does not inform parents, most will not realize that this is happening.
Responsible school districts have been doing this for a while.
Have parents in New York City been informed all along?
I believe that parents are supposed to be notified so as to provide them with a certain amount of time to opt out, but I'm not sure about it.

lorri said...

Here's a link: