San Francisco moves to block US military from collecting students’ information

When San Francisco school board members voted last fall to let students choose whether their information goes into a military recruiting database, they didn’t expect a call from the Department of Defense. But after months hashing out legal language with military lawyers, board members say a revised resolution they will vote on next month should be airtight.

“Literally, the Pentagon has contacted us,” said Board of Education Commissioner Kim-Shree Maufas. “That’s pretty high-level.”

Maufas said the district’s lawyers first heard from the Defense Department after the board voted in October to encourage 100 percent of their students to opt out of the Pentagon’s Joint Advertising Market Research and Studies, which purchases information on Americans between the ages of 16 and 25 for the use of military recruiters.

“They had suggested we were overzealous in protecting our students, which I don’t think we can be,” Maufas said.

The advertising database, which was created in 2005, gathers information about students from outside sources, including college eligibility tests, websites offering information about college and the DMV.

“They’re amassing minors’ information,” said Pablo Paredes, a counter-recruitment associate with the San Francisco branch of the anti-war American Friends Service Committee. “No one else can or would get away with it. But it’s been under the radar.”

Paredes, along with an Oakland youth group, BAY-Peace, has been working since last year to bring this effort to the district’s attention. San Francisco was the third district, after Oakland and Berkeley, to provide students with opt-out forms. Oakland, too, got a call from the Pentagon.

“I think we were a little surprised,” said Alison McDonald, one of Oakland’s executive officers for high schools. “They definitely cared.”

McDonald said that the district complied with Defense Department wishes by only allowing students who are at least 15 to opt out.

In San Francisco, board members will vote next month on a revised resolution that limits distribution of opt-out forms to students who are at least 15½ years old. The earlier resolution allowed younger students’ parents to opt them out.

New language makes clear that students are automatically included in the database unless they opt out. The revised resolution also omits the requirement that the district collect and mail in the forms, and eliminates the district’s goal of having all students opt out of the database.

A Pentagon spokeswoman did not provide comment in time for publication.  

Capt. Jason Sumners, company commander of Army recruiters in The City, said young people have always had the option of opting out of military recruitment.

“It is an all-volunteer military and no one is forced to join,” he said.

San Francisco vs. military recruiters

1991: SFUSD bars military recruiters from schools.

2002: The federal No Child Left Behind law requires schools to provide information to military recruiters, at the risk of losing funding.

2003: SFUSD requires schools to provide families with forms allowing them to opt out of the district’s report to the Department of Defense. More than 90 percent of families opt out.

2005: City voters pass a nonbinding ballot measure encouraging K-12 and college officials to keep recruiters off campuses.

2010: The school board requires schools to provide students with opt-in/opt-out forms for the military recruiting database. Pentagon officials complain.

2011: The board plans to vote on a revised version of the 2010 resolution.

Source: SFUSD, news reports

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