The RI ACLU today commended the issuance this week of a state Department of Education 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 by DOE Commissioner Peter McWalters, follows a survey the ACLU released in August, showing 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.

A provision in the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts to provide student names, addresses and phone numbers on request to various branches of the U.S. military for recruiting purposes. However, that same law also requires that schools give both parents and students the opportunity to not have that information disclosed without written parental consent. In a survey conducted over the summer, however, the RI ACLU found that while many schools provided opt-out forms for parents to sign, none that the Affiliate reviewed had similar forms for use by high school students under 18 years of age. The DOE 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.

The ACLU survey had also uncovered other problems that are addressed by the Commissioner’s advisory. For example, 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 DOE 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. This week’s advisory says that the opt-out forms must contain “a reasonable deadline for submission.”

R.I. ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “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. 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.” The advisory requires school districts to submit their forms to the Department.