My 15-year-old son jolted me out of my morning trance the other day with a question that sent my mind reeling.
"Dad, did you know that high schools are providing the names, addresses and phone numbers of students to military recruiters without permission?"
Looking up from my coffee, I replied, "What? Are you sure? How do you know that?"
He said, "It's on Anti-Flag's Web site. Anti-Flag's a punk band that's against military recruiting on high school campuses."
It's not surprising that Joey got some real news -- news that I had no clue about -- from a punk rock band. He loves the Ramones, skateboarding, playing guitar, and having a really, really good time as a modern American teenager.
He's also politically astute and plugged into the anti-war sentiment that's escalating following a lull of several months in the wake of George W. Bush's depressing reelection.
Evidence is mounting that America's youth are beginning to resist the military propaganda that's lured millions of young men and women into the Armed Services since July 1, 1973, when the draft ended during the waning days of the Vietnam War.
The horror of the war in Iraq is definitely hitting home, with 56 percent of Americans surveyed in a recent CNN poll saying the military effort is going "badly" or "very badly."
It's been two years since President Bush prematurely declared "mission accomplished" on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. American military leaders are now confirming that a campaign to rout the so-called insurgents, many of whom are Iraqis who view themselves as fighting an invading force, could last for many more years.
For the first time in a decade, the Army and Marine Corps are missing their monthly recruiting goals as the number of flag-draped coffins shamefully shipped back in secret from Iraq approaches 1,700.
The good news is that more young people are starting to question America's foreign policy by refusing to enlist. But the bad news is that fewer volunteers increase the chances of a draft. This is the first protracted war in modern times where the United States hasn't employed selective service.
As I sat down at the computer to look up Anti-Flag, the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young anti-war anthem "Four Dead in Ohio" (memorializing the May 4, 1970, massacre at Kent State University) streamed through my mind.
Are we heading down this horrible road again, where tin soldiers gun down American students protesting an endless war?
In the middle of Anti-Flag's home page was another link to www.militaryfreezone.org. I kept on clicking, and soon confirmed my son's disturbing information that the nation's high schools have become ground zero in the armed forces' determined effort to make sure no child is left untouched by the long arm of Uncle Sam.
The more I learned, the more I wondered why I hadn't heard about this before. Why hasn't the militarization of public schools been prominently reported in the media? How can the military be allowed to use high-pressure telemarketing campaigns on the youth of our nation without parental permission?
For Christ's sake, my son can't go on a field trip without my written permission!
Why should his personal information be turned over to military recruiters who're under tremendous pressure to find more warm bodies to pack into ill-equipped Humvees that are routinely getting blown apart in Iraq?
Praise be to Anti-Flag, whose songs I doubt I'll ever listen to but whose courage to spread the word about the behind-the-scenes recruiting effort in America's high schools is deeply appreciated. Just as the protest songs that inspired millions in my generation to march in the streets were lost on our parents, the music that moves my children just gives me a headache.
But it doesn't matter if I don't get it. What matters is that Joey's generation does.
The word is getting spread through cyberspace about a law that was supposed to improve public schools, but is, in fact, making them easy pickings for military recruiters.
Passed three months after September 11, 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act requires secondary schools receiving federal funds (which is just about every high school in the country) to provide military recruiters, upon request, the names, addresses and phone numbers of students.
Personal student information is invaluable to military recruiters who, critics say, target kids from lower-income neighborhoods with intense marketing ploys to get them to enlist.
"They know these kids don't have the same opportunities as more affluent students," says Stan Henry of the Arizona Counter-Recruitment Coalition, an anti-war group encouraging students to seek other employment options besides the military. "It's almost like a poverty draft."
"We don't send out any type of letter or communication letting parents know this may happen," Craig Pletenik, public information officer for the Phoenix Union High School District, admitted to me.
Pletenik says the Phoenix Union High School District transmits about 8,500 names, addresses and phone numbers of 10th- and 11th-graders every spring to Army and Navy recruiters in downtown Phoenix.
Pletenik says the number of parents requesting that Phoenix Union withhold personal information from the military is "minuscule."
Which's because few parents know that recruiters are routinely siphoning the names and addresses of kids behind mom and dad's backs!
Until I talked to Pletenik, I had no idea whether my opposition to Joey's records being handed over would make any difference. Turns out, parents and students can legally prohibit school districts from handing over personal information to recruiters.
That is, if school districts don't lie about the rules for disclosure.
I discovered that three of the Valley's largest high school districts are misleading parents and students into believing that the only way to withhold personal information from the military is to withhold the same information from practically every other entity.
Phoenix Union, for example, provides an "opt out" form in its student handbook distributed at the beginning of the academic year that allows students to have personal information withheld. If parents see the form and sign it, the information will not only be withheld from the military, but from the school yearbook, colleges, scholarship organizations and athletic and student-activity rosters.
No wonder hardly any Phoenix Union parent who trips over the "opt out" form is signing it.
The situation's the same at Tempe Union High School District. Last year, fewer than 400 students out of 6,400 10th- and 11th-graders turned in forms preventing the release of the information.
Kathy Bareiss, community relations director for Mesa Public Schools, says her district provided personal information on more than 9,300 sophomores and juniors to military recruiters this year.
"Only a handful of kids opted out," Bareiss says, by returning a form provided in the student handbook removing their names from almost all activity lists.
Next year, Bareiss says Mesa will make a form available that allows parents to withhold students' names from military recruiters and universities -- not from practically every list.
"There is no way to separate [the military and universities]," she says.
Which, of course, is bullshit, as well as against the law.
The No Child Left Behind Act states:
"A secondary school student or the parent of the student may request that the student's name, address and telephone listing . . . not be released without prior written parental consent, and the local educational agency or private school shall notify parents of the option to make a request and shall comply with any request."
My advice to parents is to forget about the forms provided by school districts. If you want a form to present to your child's district that blocks his information from getting handed over to the military but allows it to be given to the likes of colleges and scholarship funds, go to http://www.militaryfreezone.org/opt_out.
The time to act is now.
An avalanche of reports have come out about illegal and unethical techniques used by recruiters across the country to shore up sagging enlistment numbers.
Abuses have become so widespread that the Army was forced to take the unprecedented step of suspending all recruiting operations nationwide on May 20 so that recruiters could undergo special training.
At the same time the Army's buffing up its recruiting pitch, the Arizona Counter-Recruitment Coalition is holding a poetry slam featuring spoken-word artists from local high schools. The coalition says the poets will "spit truth about military recruitment and draft resistance."
This "training" session begins at 9 p.m. Wednesday, June 8, at the Counter Culture Café at 2330 East McDowell Road in Phoenix.
Check it out. I'll be there.
Good news keeps coming on the state's effort to dislodge a fundamentalist Mormon polygamist sect from control of the Colorado City public schools.
On May 24, a police task force raided the Colorado City Unified School District headquarters in northern Arizona north of the Grand Canyon and seized the district's financial records and dozens of computers. Police removed enough equipment from district offices to fill a full-size rental truck.
The raid uncovered "several new investigative leads" that could result in criminal charges against top school administrators, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard tells me.
The search warrant, which was unsealed on May 27, states that school Superintendent Alvin Barlow, business manager Jeffery Jessop and assistant business manager Oliver Barlow are targets of a state criminal investigation alleging misuse of public funds.
The raid comes 25 months after I exposed widespread financial abuses at the Colorado City school district ("The Wages of Sin," April 10, 2003).
Police sources say investigators discovered evidence indicating that school district property was being used to conduct private business.
Investigators, for example, seized surveying equipment from the back of a district-owned Ford F-350, 4X4 crew cab assigned to Jessop, who operates a private surveying business on the side.
Police also discovered unopened cans of beer in Jessop's truck. Jessop, like Alvin Barlow and Oliver Barlow, is a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a breakaway sect of the Mormon Church, which forbids alcohol consumption.
Investigators are focusing on allegations that the school district diverted large amounts of public money into unknown activities.
Meg Pollard, an attorney general's investigator specializing in school fraud, states in an affidavit that the district set up a bank account that cleared large transactions that required -- but never received -- the approval of Mohave County schools Superintendent Mike File.
Pollard states that she found transactions as large as $170,000 moving through the account. More than $900,000 cleared the account in the past five years. Any transaction over $20,000 needed approval by File's office, which was never notified.
The state's discovery of what appears to be a slush fund is not surprising. My investigation found that school administrators had rung up thousands of dollars of personal expenses on district credit cards.
The state's also investigating a $3 million grant that the district reportedly received but never spent on school functions.
The raid came four days after File told teachers and administrators that the state intended to place the school district into receivership later this summer. File told the staff that he expected to be appointed as the receiver and that he planned to terminate many employees.
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The Attorney General's Office wisely moved to protect evidence in its criminal investigation from possible destruction.
My investigation proved that Colorado City school officials engaged in illegal activities. It's great that the AG's office is cutting off the publicly funded financial pipeline to the polygamist enclave, which has used the school district to illegally siphon funds to the fundamentalist church. The leaders of that church have not only condoned but required the sexual abuse of underage girls in their community for decades.
Says one police officer involved in the raid about those responsible for the financial fraud: "I think we got them."