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Countering military recruiters in schools

This year, the Department of Defense wants to sign up 322,000 military recruits.The push is on to target many of these recruits from high schools across the country. In Wilkes County, an anti-war group based in Raleigh also wants its message heard.North Carolina Peach Action has filed a lawsuit against the school district in hopes of being allowed to warn students about military service. A Charlotte attorney has taken up the cause. WFAE's Greg Collard reports. In some ways, this story has its roots in the first Iraq war. Back then, Sally Ferrell's son was in high school. And so were military recruiters. "They would try to speak to him at school, they would call on the phone, they would call his work, they went to his workplace," she says. Fast forward to 2005. Ferrell heard more stories of aggressive recruiters. And, as a member of North Carolina Peace Action, she asked the local superintendent for permission to visit schools herself to talk to students about her view of the military. "We really weren't expecting any resistance, but he said 'no,' " Ferrell says. Eventually, Superintendent Stephen Laws relented when Ferrell brought a representative of AmeriCorps. That lasted one semester. "It kind of regressed into a negative portrait of the military rather than positive recruiting of options. I said, 'No, we're not going to do that' " Laws says. Laws says he won't allow any school visitors to criticize other groups on campus. Ferrell says she's not critical; she's just telling students facts. She says the school system's refusal to allow her on campus is a violation of her First Amendment Rights. Last month (January), the state ACLU filed a lawsuit against the district. Charlotte attorney Charles Johnson represents the ACLU. "They have a right to determine the sorts of access that are given to outsiders to come into schools, but once they open the door they cannot discriminate upon the basis of viewpoint," Johnson says. The school superintendent disagrees. He says the purpose of having any recruiter on campus is to offer kids employment or education opportunities. He thinks Ferrell and North Carolina Peace Action have a political agenda. "Unless they back down, it's going to court, because we're not backing down," Laws said to a group of juniors and seniors at the district's main office. Most, like Ashley Rankin and Courtney Jarvis, say it's OK for recruiters to be at their school. But they don't want to be the subject of a hard sell. Ashley: "The lady was coming around and saying, here, you need to read this and handing us stuff," Ashley says. Courtney: "It seems to me like she's pushing her opinion on us more than giving us factual information." Ashley: "It's facts, but it's opinionated facts. There's factual information, but there's words in there that tweak it to her opinion." One brochure warns students they shouldn't enlist to escape problems, then adds that many people discover the military amplifies their problems. But these teenagers also say Ferrell's literature serves a purpose, such as one that suggests questions to ask recruiters. Attorney Charles Johnson says his clients are only trying to give students accurate information so that they can make choices that are best for them. "No doubt, any view of the facts can be interpreted in different ways, and certainly there is a viewpoint from which they are delivering those facts," Johnson says. "They are pacifists; they don't believe in war. But that's not the agenda they're attempting to convey to the students. What they're attempting to convey to the students is valid, factual job-related information about what might befall them should they elect to serve in the military." Sgt. First Class Scott Gianfrancesco came to Wilkes County about a year ago to head the Army's local recruiting office. He was quickly brought up to date on the controversy. "Needless to say, it didn't put a big smile on my face," he says. "However, just like anything else in life, there are going to be challenges thrown our way and we have to adapt and overcome." And Gianfrancesco doesn't have the access he wants, either. That's because this controversy prompted the school board to restrict all recruiters to just four visits a year. "Some of the students are a little more standoffish in the Wilkes County schools, (and) some of the educators themselves because they've had limited contact with military personnel." But the policy doesn't include classroom visits. So Gianfrancesco is identifying military-friendly teachers to encourage them to invite recruiters to their classes. View flyers used by anti-war group: 1. Do You Know Enought to Enlist? (front) Do You Know Enough to Enlist? (back) 2. Questions to ask recruiter Answers recruiter should provide 3. Sgt. Abe the Honest Recruiter(front) Sgt. Abe the Honest Recruiter (back)