Group wants military recruiting info on students kept private

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Staff Sgt. Rafael Santos with the Santa Clarita U.S. Army Recruiting Center helps students set up before the VEX Robotics Competition in Granada Hills, Calif., Nov. 23, 2013. U.S. ARMY
Staff Sgt. Rafael Santos with the Santa Clarita U.S. Army Recruiting Center helps students set up before the VEX Robotics Competition in Granada Hills, Calif., Nov. 23, 2013. U.S. ARMY

Group wants military recruiting info on students kept private

by: Ed Stannard | .
New Haven Register, Conn. MCT | .
published: May 05, 2014

There’s only one organization that can get high school students’ private information without parental consent: the military, according to the National Coalition to Protect Privacy’s Jack Elder.

His group has been working to change that, but the Connecticut House of Representatives’ Veterans Affairs Committee recently killed a bill that would have prevented releasing the results of a military-aptitude test, as well as Social Security numbers and other private information.

It was passed by the Education Committee 22-10 before it was referred to the veterans committee.

Elder says the real purpose of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is to help military recruiters identify prospects for the armed services.

“The issue is that Johnny can go to school and be tested by the military and have his test information and some pretty sensitive personal information and Social Security number sent to the Pentagon for recruiting purposes,” said Elder, who lives in Maryland, where a similar bill passed.

The Federal Educational Rights Privacy Act protects student records by requiring parental consent (or student consent at 18 and older) to release records to other schools and organizations. “The ASVAB is the only exception to that rule,” Elder said.

Senate Bill 423 would “require school districts to select the option that student test results on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery not be released to recruiting services.”

That is Option 8: “Access to student test information is not provided to recruiting services.” Other options require disclosure within certain periods of time. Elder said the military proctors the test, then provides the information to the schools, but Option 8 prevents its use as recruiting material.

Elder also objects that posters and other materials present ASVAB as a career-discernment test, but there is “nothing anywhere that says its primary purpose is a recruiting tool.”

Elder said 12,000 schools administered the test last year and more than 2,000 schools require Option 8 be selected. In Hawaii and Maryland, for example, the student “has to visit a recruiter and sign off on it.” That’s also true in Los Angeles, New York City and San Diego, he said

The ASVAB is not mandatory in Connecticut; 4,243 were tested in the 2010-11 school year, with 31 percent choosing Option 8. In 2012-13, 3,750 took the test and 44 percent chose Option 8.

In New Haven schools, parents are given an opt-out letter at orientation “that allows parents to declare that they do not wish for their child’s student information to be shared with military recruiters,” said schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith in an email.

“At Hillhouse, which typically has a higher number of students taking the ASVAB test, the school only shares information with recruiters if the student indicates that he or she is interested in pursuing a future with the military.

“So the bottom line is that we recognize the military offers a valuable pathway after high school graduation for some of our students. We also respect and constantly work to protect the privacy of our students. Having opt-out letters for parents to sign at orientation is part of the process,” Smith said.

West Haven High School “sends information home about this at the beginning of the school year and also puts it in the school newsletters,” said Assistant Principal Dana Martinez, according to an email from schools spokeswoman Susan Misur.

“The school gives parents an opportunity to sign a form if they don’t want their child’s information released,” Misur said.

When a recruiter asks to meet with students, only names of students who have expressed interest are given out and a school staff member coordinates the meeting, Misur said. Recruiters are also available in the cafeteria, she said.

In testimony submitted to the Education Committee, Army Lt. Col. Michael Coleman, senior commander for Army recruiting in Connecticut, opposed the bill. He said, “When scores are not released to military recruiters, parents and students miss out on a valuable career exploration tool and may not receive information about opportunities available to them in a civilian career field or career in the military.”

He said most information the military uses is received through the No Child Left Behind Act, which only includes names, addresses and phone numbers and includes an opt-out provision.

State Rep. Jack Hennessy, D-Bridgeport, House chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, told vice.com that the panel “killed the bill.” “To my knowledge, parents already have this ability to limit the dispersal of information and thought it unnecessary,” he said. Elder said that is incorrect.

Hennessy could not be reached for comment, nor could Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, co-chairwoman of the Education Committee, who voted for the bill.

State Rep. David Alexander, D-Enfield, in an opinion piece for CTNewsJunkie.com, called Elder’s concerns a “red herring” and said they were partly based on “Vietnam-era distrust” and “the consequence of going forward with this bill is to further encourage discordancy between the all-volunteer force and the civilian population it protects.”

To accusations that the Maryland bill was anti-military, Delegate Sheila Hixson, D-Md., House sponsor of the bill, is quoted on the National Coalition’s website as saying, “For me, it wasn’t the military piece, it was the parental permission. Parents didn’t know what was going on and children didn’t realize what was going on.”

In 2012-13, according to data from the National Coalition, almost 660,000 students took the ASVAB tests, 928 schools made it mandatory, and 18.5 percent used Option 8 to prevent the military using the information for recruiting.

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