ACLU Applauds Rhode Island’s Move to Protect Students’ Right to Privacy from Military Recruiters

November 17, 2005
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org
 
PROVIDENCE, RI -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today commended the state Department of Education for issuing an advisory to all school district superintendents, reminding them of their obligation to protect the privacy rights of students in interactions with military recruiters. The advisory, issued this week by Commissioner Peter McWalters, follows an ACLU survey released in August, which revealed that many local school districts did not have proper procedures in place to inform parents and students about their legal right to control the release of student information to the military.
 
“Aggressive military recruiting tactics have become a real concern for many parents and students, unaware that schools were handing over personal information to the armed forces,” said ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown. “We are pleased that the Department of Education has taken steps to ensure that the privacy rights of both parents and students will be better protected by school districts.”
 
At issue is a provision in the federal No Child Left Behind Act that requires school districts to provide student names, addresses and phone numbers on request to various branches of the U.S. military for recruiting purposes. But that same law also requires that schools give both parents and students the opportunity to not have that information disclosed without written parental consent.
 
However, in a survey conducted over the summer, the ACLU of Rhode Island found that while many schools provided opt-out forms for parents to sign, none of the schools reviewed had similar forms for use by high school students under 18 years of age. The Department of Education advisory specifically instructs school districts to provide all secondary school students a form giving them that option, and includes a sample form that school districts can use. All school districts will now be required to submit the opt-out forms to the Department.
 
The Commissioner’s advisory also addresses other problems uncovered by the ACLU survey. The ACLU found that some school districts used all-purpose opt-out forms, instead of ones limited to the military; thus, parents were not given a choice of, for example, allowing directory information to be provided to institutions of higher education, but not the military. The new advisory rejects such an all-or-nothing approach. The ACLU survey had also found that some districts provided very short deadlines for parents to respond to opt-out requests. The new advisory states that the opt-out forms must contain “a reasonable deadline for submission.”
 
For more information on the ACLU’s survey, go to: www.aclu.org/Privacy/Privacy.cfm?ID=19010&c=253&SubsiteID=44
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