Capuano: Military recruiters deserve access to students

October 19, 2007
By

DAVID TABER

Local activists want youths’ information protected

In a move that has local activists baffled, Congressman Mike Capuano, who represents JP, is the commonwealth’s sole US representative not signed onto a bill limiting military recruiters’ access to students’ personal information.

The legislation in question, the Student Privacy Protection Act of 2007, would bar the release of students’ names, addresses and telephone listings without written consent from their parents. It would reverse language in the No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2001, which gives recruiters access to the information unless students or parents explicitly opt out.

Allowing the military full access to high school students insures that it will be an option “not just among kids who have no other choice,” Capuano said. “The military in a perfect world would be educated, diverse and populated by people who want to be in it.”

Noting that the congressman was an early and vocal opponent of the US invasion of Iraq, local activist Jeri Levitt said she could not understand why he is not more concerned with “stopping the flow of kids to someplace where they are going to be killed.”

Levitt participates in a weekly anti-war vigil at the Monument on Centre Street and has traveled to Washington multiple times to protest the war and meet with congressional staffers.

Another group of activists, including local residents as well as folks hailing from around Greater Boston, has been, until recently, passing out opt-out forms and counter-recruitment information outside English High School on McBride Street on Tuesday mornings.

The deadline for students to opt out was the last week of September, said local counter-recruitment activist Matthew Henzy. But the group, which includes a contingent of the anti-militarism troupe the Raging Grannies, will continue to provide informational leaflets for students en route to school.

Henzy said he was aware of Capuano’s stance on the student privacy legislation, but it is not something he is focused on. “I am happy folks are paying attention to that, but I am more focused on the on-the-ground stuff,” he said.

Bill Sweet, a staff member at the New England Regional Office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which has been providing support for local activists, pointed out that Capuano was “one of the first who said he wanted to stop the funding for the war.”

Sweet said he had contacted Capuano staffers about the Student Privacy Act and has so far been unimpressed with the responses he has heard.

“He doesn’t understand what opt-in is, I think,” Sweet said.

And, indeed, Capuano told the Gazette he was unfamiliar with the specific legislation in question. Generally, Capuano said, he feels “the military is an honorable and good profession, and we need a strong, well-supported military regardless of how we use it.”

In general, Capuano said, he thinks military recruiters should have the same access to high school students as business and college recruiters.

He said he understands that there are some who believe the US should not have a military at all, “but that is a philosophical argument that is not one that I share.”

According to AFSC staffer Sam Diener, however, the immediate issue is No Child Left Behind gives military recruiters privileged access.

“The law doesn’t say [schools] have to give [students’ personal] information to anyone else,” Diener said. “Right now the law gives privileged access to military recruiters so they can send young people off to kill and die.”

Diener, who is also a volunteer counselor with the GI Rights Hotline, said the Student Privacy Act “puts the power back into the hands of students and parents.”