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Military access to our schools is a triple win

The school district that serves one of the nation's biggest centers of U.S. military might has finally seen the light as far as allowing military recruiters reasonable access to student information in order to offer graduating high school seniors military career options.

Never mind that at the time federal legislation requiring such access was passed a year ago, San Diego City Schools was one of only seven school districts throughout the nation that did not allow armed forces recruiters access to the kind of information that would permit them to give information to students. The Board of Education had voted in late 1993 to restrict student directory information for recruiters, claiming that such access interfered with student privacy.

Since then military and business leaders have been trying to convince the district to pay some homage and respect to the important economic and social contributions the Navy and Marine Corps make to our community and to treat military service as a viable option for graduating seniors.

Over the years discussion centered on the positive impact the military has on our region's economy and the importance of maintaining good relations with our Navy and Marine neighbors. The defense establishment here is big business and is a major economic resource throughout the region. It contributes millions of dollars in federal impact aid to the district. The district needed to acknowledge the Navy and Marine Corps forces here the same way it acknowledges and even courts major civilian businesses. Perhaps more.

The advantages of the military presence here extend to individual young people looking to make good career choices as well. Take the technology sector for example. Opportunities for technology careers abound in our military services. They are among the most technologically oriented organizations that exist today. Young people are offered important and unmatched technical training and career opportunities jobs that are in many cases providing more important and relevant opportunities than the civilian sector.

When you consider the state-of-the-art technical training, four-year

college scholarships, the GI bill, job security, and the best school-to-work transition program being offered by the armed services, it is intuitively obvious that any policy that unduly restricts military recruiters from being able to contact students is not in the best interests of those students.

These arguments, by themselves, should have had some impact on the district's thinking, but in the end, it came down to dollars and cents or the threatened lack thereof. The new federal "No Child Left Behind Act" requires schools receiving federal funding to share student information with military requirements, lest they lose such funding. Much of the district's Blueprint for Student Success is being financed via Title I federal funding.

For a district with roughly 70 percent of its students qualifying for

government monies for free and reduced lunches, the loss of federal funding would be unthinkable.

Under this new law, schools are now required to provide names and addresses of high school students except for those whose parents have opted out of providing such information. The law requires districts to provide military recruiters the same access as they generally provide to post-secondary institutions or prospective civilian employers.

As part of its action to create a partnership with the military, the

district also has created a Military/School District Oversight Task Force of active and retired military, community members, and district representatives to help resolve alleged incidents in which military recruiters might behave too aggressively and to be sure the district remains in compliance with federal and state requirements for recruiter access to the district's schools.

The district also is considering adopting a procedure to allow for the

consistent administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test which had been administered on an inconsistent basis among district high schools. Some schools required parental consent prior to students being given the test, others did not. Again, the policy or lack of policy that even allowed schools to require parental consent for the military-oriented test was inconsistent with the policy for other aptitude tests widely given without requiring parental consent, such as the civilian Career Occupation Preference System test.

Also being explored by the district is the creation of a Public Safety

Academy to support the training and education of students for careers in the police, legal, firefighting, emergency medical training, and military services and is studying the feasibility of expanding the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps programs to all comprehensive high schools in the district.

Nothing, including the federal legislation, is suggesting that military

recruiters be given greater status or access to student records just the same information that has been freely given to other parties. Military service is a viable career option that should be given to all students to consider.

The district's new partnership with the military that includes reasonable access to student information works for all concerned. For one thing, the partnership reinforces the good and productive relationships between the military and our business community. Secondly, it helps the armed forces create a higher visibility in our community. Last and most important, the partnership gives students important information about viable career options that perhaps they would not otherwise be able to obtain.

Working together with the military is a triple win for all concerned and in today's shaky economic and political landscapes, that's not bad at all.

Hovenic, Ed.D., is president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation and executive director of the Foundation's Business Roundtable for Education. E-mail her at ginger.hovenic@sddt.com.

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