October 2, 2008

Peace Group Wants Equal Access to U-46 Schools

By Kerry Lester

[email protected]@dailyherald.com

A Fox Valley peace group has asked the Elgin Area School District U-46 board to give them the same access to schools as military recruiters.

South Elgin resident Bettina Perillo, a member of Fox Valley Citizens for Peace, since 2006 had passed out pamphlets from a booth in Elgin High School's cafeteria.

The pamphlets aim to educate students about other options outside enlisting in the military, Perillo said. Her group chose Elgin High because of its high military recruitment rate.

In March, school administrators asked Perillo to leave. That day, Perillo was accompanied by members of the American Friends Service Committee, a larger prolific peace group.

School administrators charged she was "bashing the military," Perillo said.

"I asked what materials of mine were offensive - I wouldn't bring them back to the school," Perillo said. "No one returned my calls."

Titles of Perillo's pamphlets include "Delayed Entry Program: The real story" and "Thinking about joining the military? Do you know enough to enlist?"

She also provides information about the AmeriCorps volunteer program and college scholarships, she said.

At this week's school board meeting, Perillo was flanked by representatives from the American Friends Service Committee, a lawyer representing the group, several war veterans and community members.

"If you permit military recruiters to come in to your schools, you must allow other groups," Friends lawyer Jeff Frank urged the board.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, military recruiters have the same access to high schools as colleges or prospective employers do.

Peace groups aren't considered "potential employers" unless they specifically show they're helping students to enter the work force, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The U-46 school board's policy on visitors to schools allows principals to admit groups other than college and job recruiters into schools, district spokesman Tony Sanders said.

According to the policy, a school principal or his designee can seek the removal of a person who either refuses to provide requested identification or "interferes with, disrupts, or threatens to disrupt any school activity or learning environment."

Sanders said the group was allowed in because it claimed it was offering employment options and promoting college readiness.

Sanders also said Elgin High officials had never received complaints about the group until March.

"On this particular day, there were students and staff members that complained about their presence," Sanders said.

When those concerns were brought to school administrators' attention, Perillo was asked to leave, Sanders said.

In a 1984 court case, peace groups were granted the same degree of access as recruiters in Chicago Public Schools.

American Friends members are urging U-46 to instate a similar policy.

"We want the board to know that allowing (peace groups) isn't trend-setting; it's pretty commonplace for us to come in and talk to students," said American Friends Service Committee program director Darlene Gremigna.

Gremigna said her group, and parallel groups, like the Fox Valley Peace association, regularly distribute pamphlets at local suburban high schools.

"It's very commonplace. ... If Chicago can pass a policy, U-46 can do the same."

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