People move from all over the world to buy or rent a home in the neighborhoods surrounding Irvine's University High School. So, it was no surprise that on Thursday, Sept. 9, the first day of a new school year, long lines had already formed outside the administrative office.
As the school's own name suggests, University is an academic hothouse, one of the state's top high schools, and widely considered a recruiting ground for the nation's most prestigious universities.
But thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, University High School—like every other public school in the United States—is also a recruiting ground for the military.
The school's registration packet included forms pledging to use the Internet honorably, extolling the dangers of fake guns and allowing or denying off-campus lunch breaks. But also inside was a yellow postcard telling parents that unless they signed on the dotted line, their child's name, address, and grade level would be forwarded to their friendly neighborhood Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps recruitment office.
The card informs parents that all U.S. school districts are required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 to “provide to military recruiters, upon request, access to secondary school students” as well as “directory information” on those students. “If you DO NOT wish to have your student's directory information released to military recruiters, please sign and return this card with your student's registration materials,” the card states.
Some parents simply glanced over the bright yellow card and signed it. A few others had questions.
“If I sign this, my son will go into the Army?” one mother asked. “No,” replied the parent volunteer behind the table. “You have to check the box that says it is okay to send your son's records to the military.” Apparently appeased, the woman signed the card and dropped it in a pile of 20 or so others. But several parents balked, presumably shuddering at the thought of their college-bound kids being sent, not to Stanford or Yale, but to Falluja.
Private schools are exempt from the No Child Left Behind Act. Calls to local military recruiters and officials in several OC school districts revealed that recruiters not only receive student information from public high schools but are also actively recruiting students on campus.
“We are only sending out the student's name, address and grade level—nothing else, and nothing without the parents' consent,” said Leah Laule, assistant superintendent of education services for the Irvine Unified School District.
“Unless the parents say no, by law we have to release the students' names and addresses,” said Jane Garland, public information officer for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, which allows military recruiters on its campuses. While the recruiters are advised to stay at the career center, Garland said they often walk around the schools, talking directly to students. “So far, all of the parents have been very cooperative with the program,” she said.
At Irvine's University High on a recent afternoon, a group of football players all said they were familiar with the yellow cards. “It's creepy,” said Will, a freshman who asked us not to use his last name. Fortunately for Will, the card is only for parents of students who are juniors or seniors. Colin Mease, a junior, said he signed the card, requesting that his personal information not be forwarded to the military. “I think they have the right to offer you the experience,” he said. “But it would be wrong for them to badger you about it or make you feel bad about turning the experience down.”
Liz Menzies, the parent of a University ninth grader, said she opposed any effort to recruit students into the military. “I'm really anti-war, so I'm against the recruiting,” she said. “I saw the recruiting techniques in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, and I believe the only time our boys should fight is if people are invading our borders. They [recruiters] shouldn't even be here at the school.”
A Navy recruiter who refused to give his name said that most of the young people he recruits first contacted his office via the Internet. But he added that the yellow cards he receives from school officials are helpful in reaching out to students who are contemplating college but looking for alternatives. Once he picks up the cards from school district headquarters, he sends students care-packages stuffed with “knick-knacks” and videos. Those efforts pay off even among students who go to college. “They go to college for a year and then say, 'I'm outta here,' ” he said.
A Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who's been recruiting locally for five years said his office only receives lists of names from the school districts—not the yellow cards themselves. He said, “The first time I saw these cards was when I enrolled my kids into high school.”
Additional reporting by Valerie Howard, Carter Krummich and Erica Shen. NS****@OC******.COM
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).