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More and more students 'opt out' on giving info to military

Number of opt-out students rises this year from 70 to 107; increases to almost half of

eligible students

Fifteen-year-old Spencer Cyr believes high school should be a place for learning, not a clearinghouse for military recruiters.

His 14-year-old brother Forrest, a ninth-grader at South Whidbey High School, goes a step further. He says allowing military recruiters access to a student's personal information is wrong.

"It's a moral issue with me," said Forrest Cyr.

Both students are firm in their belief that human beings should find peaceful methods, rather than war, for resolving conflicts. To that end, they don't want the military to have access to their personal information.

"I had a watershed moment when I was 11, that I would never harm another human being or animal," said Spencer Cyr, a Bayview school student.

Both boys chose to "opt out" of allowing the military access to their personal information while they are still in high school. Although they are younger than most -- students are not required to make a choice before their junior year -- those who don't notify the school administration that they don't want their personal information forwarded to the military will automatically be on the list that lands in the hands of military recruiters.

The list includes student names, gender, addresses and telephone numbers. School districts must provide the information under a controversial section of the "No Child Left Behind" Act.

Spencer Cyr believes so strongly in the opt-out option that he signed the form while he was in ninth-grade, like his brother Forrest did this year.

"I started early in case there was a change in policy. I don't want military recruiters trying to contact me while I am in high school," Spencer Cry said.

Because the Cyr brothers are not juniors or seniors, their personal information would not have been forwarded this year to the military.

Almost half of eligible students now opt out

Even so, the pair have joined an increasing number of South Whidbey students, who along with their parents have decided to opt out of allowing military recruiters access to their personal information.

"It's what I would hope for my sons. But ultimately, it is their decision." said Susan Cyr, the boys' mother.

At South Whidbey High School, almost half of eligible students -- 107 students out of 320 11th- and 12th-graders -- have signed opt-out letters.

At Bayview School, 17 out of 41 eligible students opted out.

School officials say it is the increased publicity, both locally and nationally, that raised the consciousness that the option was available.

"In the past we have sent the opt-out letter home attached to the Falcon newsletter," said Jan Witsoe, coordinator of Life Long Learning at the high school. "This year we direct mailed a letter to the homes of all juniors and seniors."

"I had a number of parents call me just to make sure we had received the returned, signed letter and that their student's name would not be on a recruiter list," Witsoe said.

The total number of South Whidbey High School juniors and seniors who have opted out this year has increased significantly.

Last year, only 70 students out of 356 chose not to have their personal information forwarded to the military.

"It was definitely a topic of more interest this year. I heard students talking about it among themselves," said Pat Jolin, the secretary at Bayview who collected the opt-out forms.

Students only have to notify the district of their intention to opt out.

Witsoe said she has been notified by several ninth-graders, like Forrest Cyr, who say they don't want their information released to the military. Still, Witsoe said those students shouldn't worry.

"We still have the list of students here. We haven't been contacted to forward the information on yet," Witsoe said

Recruiter says Iraq dominates discussion

A local Army recruiter in Everett says the number of students choosing not to be contacted by a recruiter during high school has not affected overall numbers of new recruits.

"We have recruited as many people as we did before Iraq, but the need has gone up for more people," said Sgt. Anthony Branham. "Combat in Iraq has really fueled the fire of these discussions."

Branham praised the opt-out option.

"The opt-out procedure is good, because we don't want to be contacting kids who aren't interested in military career. We are still in high schools once a month and available for students who want to talk about military service," he said.

Recruiters don't depend only on high school generated lists.

"There are many other ways besides school lists to get in contact with students. I've even met with students who had signed opt-out letters change their minds and meet with us," he said.

The requirement to forward personal student data is in the No Child Left Behind Act.

Buried deep in that federal law is the requirement that districts that receive No Child Left Behind funding assistance must share student information with military recruiters. The law also requires school districts to provide military recruiters the "same access to secondary school students as is provided generally to post-secondary education institutions or prospective employers." Failure to do so can result in the loss of federal funds.

The information-sharing section of the No Child Left Behind Act was originally inserted into the bill by Rep. David Vitter of Louisiana, with almost no debate in Congress.

Vitter included this provision after learning from the Pentagon that many public schools maintained strict privacy policies protecting student information from being released to any outside parties, thus preventing aggressive military recruiting.

The military does have access to other information on potential recruits, however.

The Pentagon recently set up a database of 30 million 16 to 25-year-olds, including names, addresses, e-mail addresses, cell phone numbers, ethnicity information, Social Security numbers and areas of academic study. This Pentagon database is updated daily and distributed monthly to recruiters.

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