- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2000

The San Francisco Unified School District bans military recruiters on campus as a protest against arms spending in general and the Pentagon's homosexual ban in particular. Up the coast, the Portland, Ore., school board takes the same stance.

In fact, over 1,000 high schools nationwide bar Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps recruiters from visiting students in school. The off-limits comes at a bad time for the 1.4 million armed forces. It is having a historically tough time attracting the number, and the quality, of recruits it needs. Barring recruiters from its No. 1 hunting ground only makes matters worse.

"That is where a large majority of our target audience is," said Lt. Steve Zip, spokesman for Navy Recruiting Command, which has added 1,700 recruiters and over 200 recruiting stations since the crunch began two years ago.

Now, the Senate Armed Services Committee is proposing a new law designed to sway uncooperative school boards, even in a liberal stronghold like San Francisco.

Legislation in its fiscal 2001 budget would require all school districts to permit recruiters on campus unless its board votes to enforce a ban. The language also sets out a procedure for the state governor, the secretary of defense and U.S. Department of Education to lobby recalcitrant school districts.

"The committee believes that every high school student deserves the opportunity to learn of the opportunities of military service just as they learn of the opportunities associated with college or private-sector employment," the committee said.

But Elaine Koury, spokesman for the San Francisco Unified School District, said pressuring boards "might backfire on them."

"One of the things people need to remember is that local school districts really have jurisdiction in terms of their educational policy," she said.

She said the district does operate junior ROTC programs for 1,400 students and invites military personnel on campus for educational purposes.

"We are not throwing the military out," she said. "We're throwing military recruiters out."

In the heat of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the board passed a resolution banning recruiters. The commissioners bashed arms spending and the military's gay ban.

"Unbridled military spending in the last 40 years has, in large part, been responsible for the growing national debt and for inadequate spending on education and other necessary social services," the resolution stated. "The military branches of the United States government blatantly advocate and practice discrimination against gay and lesbian enlistees."

The resolution also said, "The burden of military combat falls most heavily on minority and poor youth."

There are about 21,000 secondary schools in America, and nearly one-quarter place some restrictions on recruiters, according to Air Force figures.

Over 1,000 deny access, and, of those, 200 will not provide a list of students' names. Nearly 4,700 schools allow entry but will not provide the lists.

Brig. Gen. Peter U. Sutton, until recently the commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service, disagrees with the practice. A spokesman quoted him saying that "It seems to be a shame that an institution that enjoys freedom of expression would basically censor the information that is available to students."

Said Ms. Koury: "They can hear the opportunity. They just won't hear about it on school campuses in San Francisco.

The Air Force fell 1,700 inductees short of a 33,800 recruiting target last year, the first time it missed the mark since 1979. This year, it lags by about 2,000.

"Our recruiters simply want to present an opportunity to students," said Master Sgt. Tom Clements, an Air Force spokesman. "All we are asking for is an opportunity to present what the Air Force has to offer."

Lt. Col. Katherine Abbott, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to criticize individual school districts, but said students are missing an opportunity.

"We feel that we offer a wonderful opportunity for young people for a career in the military and by allowing recruiters on campus that will allow students to make an informed decision on their futures," she said. "We are working very hard with schools and the administration to gain access."

Pentagon figures differed somewhat from the Air Force's. They show that 600 high schools ban all recruiting, while 2,000 ban one or more of the services.

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