The Tacoma Weekly reports on the May 5 protest by Students Against the Draft and War, who advocate counter-recruitment information at Foss High School in Tacoma, Washington. -- Reporter Pamela McMahan's piece concludes by noting that the protesting students, led by Clara Lightner, "were given permission to hold the cancelled teach-in, and Principal Schauss had agreed to honor the student group's two other demands. They will be alerted two weeks before a military recruiter is scheduled to come to school so that they can put up a table in the cafeteria presenting alternative points of view. They also won the right to have weekly meetings in the school 'in order to build our student club,' Lightner said." ...
STUDENTS HOLD PROTEST
By Pamela McMahan
** Military Recruitment Stirs up Controversy at Foss **
May 12, 2005
[PHOTO CAPTION: PROTEST. Foss sophomore Clara Lightner addresses a crowd gathered after school May 5 on campus.]
Military recruiters have sunk a firm foothold at public high schools in Tacoma, and equal access to an opposing viewpoint is difficult and discouraged.
That position formed the substance of a student protest at Foss High School held after school in the courtyard on Thursday, May 5. About 60 students and a handful of parents and other adults, some affiliated with United for Peace of Pierce County, turned out to hear arguments presented by a small group of students.
Led by sophomore Clara Lightner, the emergency session, complete with protest signs and bullhorn, focused on issues of free speech and student rights, questioning the decision of school administrators to stop an activity planned for the previous day. Lightner's group, Students Against the Draft and War, had organized an after-school student teach-in, intended to give students opposing information to what is given by military recruiters, and FHS Principal Sharon Schauss canceled that event.
Along with many Tacoma-area high schools, Foss has an active Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program for students interested in careers in the military, with about 100 students enrolled. Lightner's group felt that Schauss had favored the interests of the JROTC over their rights to learn about alternatives to the military. Wielding the bullhorn, Lightner explained her group's position.
"We are not here to fight anyone from the JROTC. We are here to stand up for our rights. It is required by law to have representation for both sides of this issue. We have recruiters and JROTC on the military side, and no one on the other side because Principal Schauss has stopped us."
Foss' administration claimed that it didn't violate the students' free speech rights, but, rather, the teach-in wasn't allowed because Lightner's group hadn't followed the proper procedures in getting clearance for a guest speaker. Lightner said she thought her group had followed all the school procedures correctly, and she tried to get authorization for the guest speaker from Schauss, but was dismissed from the Principal's office. There was some confusion about when and how students can form an ASB-sanctioned club, and at the end of the protest, Schauss met with the students in an attempt to further explain school district policy and her reasons for dismissing the teach-in.
Misunderstanding fulminated around several fliers that Students Against the Draft and War had circulated, Schauss said. "The fliers said things about me that were incorrect," she said. "It would have been helpful if whoever had written this had come to me and discussed it."
Chief Steven Allen, who has taught JROTC aerospace science and the history of flight for about five years at Foss, also took umbrage at the content of the protestors' fliers. His interpretation was that the fliers portrayed JROTC as being against free speech. "We've dedicated our lives to defending free speech," he said. "Our program at Foss teaches citizenship."
A number of JROTC students were present, watching the protest. "I'm just here listening to what they have to say, to find out what their points are," one student said.
Students Against the Draft and War formed their organization's name from a section of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. Under this law, the military can request the names and addresses of high school students. Some students maintain that this use of their personal information constitutes a "back-door draft."
As part of its drive to get permission for a table in the school cafeteria to present a "counter-recruitment campaign," Lightner's group wants to inform students about this "back-door draft" and steps they can take to remove their names from disclosure to the military.
Following the May 5 gathering, a group of parents, teachers and Pierce County residents issued a "Statement of Concern" regarding practices of military recruiters in Pierce County public schools. "The Students Against the Draft and War at Foss High School are demonstrating exactly the kind of civic activism our democracy is built on and our state education system is theoretically funded to cultivate," the statement reads. "The presence of increasingly aggressive military recruiters in our public schools is a matter of great concern. With large-scale U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan expected to continue for some time, a career in the military is a life and death decision for our youth."
The Statement of Concern argues that military recruiters are attempting to overcome falling enlistment rates by portraying an appealing image of military life, with inflated promises of money for college and skilled job training. "Much of this effort has been directed toward high schools in working class or minority neighborhoods. . . these students are particularly vulnerable to being pressured into enlistment by persuasive recruiters." Foss is located in an urban part of Tacoma, with a diverse ethnic population, 45% of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
Foss sophomore Alex Keane said, "I'm kind of against the war in Iraq, but what I'm really against is the falsified information recruiters are giving kids. I heard a recruiter tell a student, 'No one gets hurt in Iraq.' That's a lie." Andrew DeMaris, another sophomore, agreed. "We really shouldn't have recruiters at school," he said. "The bottom line is there is a monopoly of information the military has at this school."
At press time, Lightner said Students Against the Draft and War at Foss were given permission to hold the cancelled teach-in, and Principal Schauss had agreed to honor the student group's two other demands. They will be alerted two weeks before a military recruiter is scheduled to come to school so that they can put up a table in the cafeteria presenting alternative points of view. They also won the right to have weekly meetings in the school "in order to build our student club," Lightner said.