Serrano Sends Letter To High School Principals

José M. Serrano

June 05, 2008

The following is a letter sent by Senator Serrano and Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito to high schools principals in their respective districts.

Dear Principal:

    We write to you today regarding concerns that have been raised on military recruitment efforts at high schools in our respective districts. The military has developed special marketing strategies that target African-American and Hispanic students in working class communities. Moreover, a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union(NYCLU) and Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer has documented significant recruiter misconduct in schools throughout the city.

    Particularly in low-income communities of New York City, it is vital that we present students with a broad spectrum of opportunities for socio-economic advancement. The military, let us remember, is just one of many paths they may choose.

    We should add that our purpose is in no way to denigrate the United States Armed Forces. We simply want to ensure that military recruiters follow the same guidelines and procedures as other recruiters, and that students are provided a thorough and balanced understanding of the professional and educational opportunities available to them.

    Though legal protections for students have weakened in recent years, we send this letter to inform you of the rights and privileges that you still retain as a school principal in the face of aggressive recruitment efforts.

    First, we must stress the importance of opt-out forms, which allow students and parents to withhold personal information from military recruiters. The NYCLU report surveyed 1,000 students and found that, unfortunately, 40% of respondents did not receive a military recruitment opt-out form at the beginning of 2006-2007. This is a violation of New York City Department of Education (DOE) guidelines and Federal No Child Left Behind education laws. An additional 33% of respondents were unsure if the school provided this form.

    We respectfully ask that you ensure a comprehensive distribution of opt-out forms at the beginning of the coming school year. Please consider giving students time in homeroom or advisory to read and fill out the form if desired. We would also encourage you to organize a school assembly at which time this information can be shared with parents.

    While students can opt-out at any time during their school career, the annual deadline to ensure that a student's information remains private for that particular school year is generally in late September or early October. After that time, the military can request student directory information for that school year. As the demographic make-up of your community is quite diverse, we would be more than willing to help secure multi-lingual versions of the opt-out form.

    Other means of recruitment include the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. This is a skills and guidance test that is funded and graded by the military. According to the Army's School Recruiting Program Handbook, the main function of the test is to "provide the field recruiter with a source of leads of high school seniors and juniors qualified through the ASVAB for enlistments into the Active Army and Army Reserve …" If the test is offered in your school, please note you may choose Option 8, the only option that retains student information for school use and does not release the information to the military for recruitment purposes.

    The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act mandates that schools offer "military recruiters the same access to secondary school students as is provided generally to post-secondary educational institutions or to prospective employers of those students." Nevertheless, more than 20% of students reported the use of class time by military recruiters. This, too, is a violation of DOE guidelines, which states that all such recruitment efforts must take place in designated locations. Moreover, recruiters must not receive unfettered access to hallways, cafeterias and gymnasiums.

    While we acknowledge the implicit pressures that come with uniformed military officers in the building, it is incumbent upon schools to stand firm and ensure that military recruiters comply with DOE regulations – including tasks such as signing in and out of the school campus. Please do not hesitate to call our respective offices, as well as NYCLU, if there are questions or to report unauthorized activity. Erica Braudy, an organizer in the NYCLU advocacy department, can be reached at (212) 607-3300 or


State Senator José M. Serrano
Councilmember Melissa Mark Viverito