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Issue Date:  December 14, 2007

Peace group barred from some Florida schools, welcomed by others

TAMPA, Florida -- Public school districts in two Florida counties are refusing to allow members of a peace organization to counter the presence of military recruiters by talking with high school students about alternatives to joining the military, according to a spokesperson for the group.

The Manatee and Sarasota county school districts “are saying that we can’t go on their campuses because we aren’t offering any sort of information on postsecondary opportunities,” said Don Thompson, co-chairman of the Coalition of Concerned Patriots, a Florida-based peace group. “But that’s an excuse because we tell the students that the Job Corps and the Peace Corps are possible opportunities for jobs.”

“Some of the military recruiters [who visit students on high school campuses] aren’t telling the truth about the ways of the military,” said Thompson, a retired United Methodist minister.

Under the “No Child Left Behind” law, signed in 2002, public high schools must give military recruiters access to students, including their names, addresses and telephone numbers. Parents and students can “opt out” of this requirement by filling out a form, but many are apparently unaware that they have the right to do so.

Scott Ferguson, spokesman for the Sarasota County School District, said that while military recruiters offer specific jobs, the Coalition of Concerned Patriots “are not directly offering job career opportunities.” He added, “There certainly is no groundswell by these organizations to come to our schools.”

Compromises have been reached in other Florida school districts. Two and a half years ago, members of the Tampa Bay chapter of Veterans for Peace were denied permission to visit with students in schools of Pinellas County, which includes Clearwater, St. Petersburg and other cities.

“Eventually, we talked to all of the members of the Pinellas County School Board and we found that some of them were interested in what we had to say,” said Dwight Lawton, a Veterans for Peace volunteer. After several meetings between board members and the peace group, the school board approved a new policy on career counseling that includes this clause: “Other groups who desire to present an alternative to military service are granted equal access.”

“In the end it was very anticlimactic. It passed through,” said school district attorney David Koperski.

-- Inter Press Service

National Catholic Reporter, December 14, 2007

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