Jasper Myers, a first-year at Coney Island's Lincoln High School, has a cousin in the military, but Army recruiters haven't persuaded him to follow the same path.
"The recruiters mean well," Myers said, "but I'm here to go to school, not for the Army."
Nonetheless, standing federal legislation may make Myers the target of unsolicited recruiting efforts.
In accordance with legislation passed in Congress' No Child Left Behind Act of January 2002, schools receiving federal funding will be required to provide the military with their students' contact information on November 1st for the fourth straight year-or risk losing that funding. But by signing and returning a form to their schools, students may still "opt-out" and keep their names off the military's list.
To ensure that students take advantage of the offer, counter-recruiters and non-partisan organizations such as the New York Civil Liberties Union have focused their grass-roots campaigns on distributing opt-out forms and disseminating information about students' recruiting rights. The groups view the sharing of students' contact information as a violation of privacy rights and the increased presence of military recruiters in schools as a disruption to the educational environment.
Legally, federally funded schools must offer students opt-out forms and allow several weeks for them to return them. Students who don't follow through will stay on the list of names, addresses, and phone numbers given to the military.
The information provided to the military aids recruiters in targeting populations more likely to join the military, which is increasingly important as recruiters fail to meet recruitment quotas.
About twice a week, military recruiters come to Lincoln High School to distribute pamphlets to students from the school's sidewalk and sometimes from inside the building. This occurs throughout the nation, but especially in low-income areas with large minority populations. Some groups think the recruiting strategies are becoming overly aggressive.
"We're worried that recruiters have too much access," said Maggie Gram, CC '05, a NYCLU program organizer. Recruitment tactics "are often coercive and a violation of educational rights," she said.
In September of this year, the NYCLU launched a campaign to protest perceived violations. As part of the organization's opt-out drive, Gram oversees small groups of volunteers who travel to area high schools-particularly those where recruiter presence is heavy-to distribute opt-out forms to students.
After the November deadline passes, the campaign's focus will shift to working with the Department of Education to limit recruiter access.
"Opt-out by itself is not going to diminish the militarization of young people and the predatory behavior of recruiters," said Amy Wagner, the executive director of the Ya-Ya Network, a multi-issue organization staffed entirely by teenagers that works in conjunction with the NYCLU. The NYCLU maintains a non-partisan position and does not oppose recruitment as such, but Ya-Ya's political stance falls where its young staff leans, and it is largely considered to be counter-recruitment and anti-war despite its non-partisan label. Other groups involved in counter-recruitment are the Black Radical Congress, Alianza Dominicana, and Leave My Child Alone.
Military officials in New York would not respond to repeated requests for comment from Spectator, but a recruiter in California told the New York Times in 2003 that the policies have made a big difference in their efforts and are important given the all-volunteer nature of the U.S. military.
And while these civil rights groups campaign for restricted access, the students themselves were often nonplussed by the military's presence.
"I don't really care that they're here," said La-ron Adams, a junior at Lincoln High School.
"Everyone where I live has guns anyway-they may as well join the army and get paid to shoot," Myers said.
The military can be an attractive solution for students from low-income families, recruiters say. Capped college scholarships are a key selling point in the Army's Spanish and English brochures, a message which is echoed by some school officials.
"Gym teachers, guidance counselors, and police officers have told me to join the military to keep me from the whirlpool of disaster," said David Villanova, a junior at Lincoln High School and a professional boxer who had his teeth coated with 18-karat gold after chipping them beyond repair.
Villanova is considering enlisting, but resents how the recruiters go about their business. He said a recruiter told a friend of his that he would give him free dog tags if he signed a form. The friend signed, and shortly thereafter recruiters were coming to his house every two weeks.
Soon recruiters will have access to more than just addresses. The Department of Defense is compiling its own list of students ages 16-18 that will also contain their Social Security numbers, grade point averages, ethnicity, areas of study, and e-mail addresses.