Foes of the Iraq War are launching a new front in the battle against military recruitment: Pittsburgh city high schools.
On Sept. 18, members of a Quaker group, the American Friends Service Committee, began pressing the Pittsburgh Board of Education to consider a resolution limiting recruiter access to students.
Federal law requires public schools to give equal access to college, job and military recruiters. But military recruiters in the Pittsburgh area often have an even larger presence than those offering other career options: Recruiters have regularly set up tables in school cafeterias and have even played guest gym teachers.
Pittsburgh school policy, codified June 22, 2005, merely requires all recruiters to "schedule appointments for access to students," allowing principals to decide the limits of recruiter access. District spokesperson Ebony Pugh was unable to say whether parents had complained about recruiter access.
The Friends' proposal would restrict all recruiters to one visit per quarter at each high school, and then only in each school's career center or counseling office. "Recruiting shall not take place in school cafeterias or hallways, or at sports events, or involve a captive audience, such as an entire class or mandatory assembly," the proposed policy says. "Recruiters shall not serve as mentors or tutors, coach sports teams, or sponsor intramural activities such as school clubs ..." The proposal would keep military vehicles and high-tech games completely off school property as well, while allowing the anti-recruitment viewpoint on campus, both through literature and school visitation.
School-board President Bill Isler did not return a call for comment on the proposal.
Friends member Jon Webb, who wrote the proposal, has three kids in city high schools. Two just entered Allderdice, so they are too young to have experienced an approach, but his daughter, a Schenley senior, has gotten military recruitment calls, he says.
Webb belongs also to Conscience, the local conscientious-objector support group that is also participating in efforts to restrict military recruiters' access to students. Conscience "wanted to do something that would push back against the kind of recruiting and military involvement in this culture," Webb says. "The only way this war is going to stop is if it becomes too difficult to recruit people."
Webb is modeling the group's efforts on the success of Pat Elder, a lobbyist for the Center on Conscience and War in Washington, D.C. The Center has successfully pushed nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, to enact several recruiter restrictions in the past two years. The group's efforts have: given parents more opportunity to prevent the school from sending student contact information to the military; placed anti-recruitment literature next to the military's brochures; kept the school from having to send scores to the military on its own aptitude test (though taking the test is voluntary); and forced parents to sign off on the test before their child can take it.
"Now, we're working on the crux of it all ... access" to the kids themselves, says Elder, who has a child in one of Montgomery's high schools. The district, he points out, is "the bluest of the blue ... solidly Democratic and wealthy," so it's more easily convinced to institute recruiter restrictions.
Scilla Wahrhaftig, head of the Friends group, believes Pittsburgh's very blue district may be ripe for similar reforms. If the group can gain the support of even one board member in the next several months, she says, "We might have a pretty good chance."