October 2, 2008

Do Peace Groups, Military Vie for Time in High Schools?

By Kerry Lester

Imagine the scenario:

A local peace group has long distributed fliers at a suburban high school. These fliers encourage students to make informed choices when joining the military.

One day, an administrator decides that the peace group's is "military bashing."

The group is asked to leave.

Military recruiters, also distributing fliers at the school, keep making regular visits.

The peace group cries foul over the school's choice.

Is such a decision fair? Too rash?

The U-46 school board must now decide, after Bettina Perillo of the Fox Valley Citizens for Peace Monday petitioned the board to stop selectively choosing who can visit U-46 schools.

Perillo, of South Elgin, had passed out pamphlets for more than a year from a booth in Elgin High School's cafeteria.

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

In March, when Perillo was passing out pamphlets at the school, she said was asked to leave by a school administrator, who claimed she was "bashing the military."

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

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

When school administrators discovered this was not the case, they were asked to leave, Sanders said.

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

"If you permit military recruiters to come into your schools, you must allow other groups," AFSC lawyer Jeff Frank told 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 technically aren't considered "potential employers" unless they show they're helping students to enter the work force.

In 1984, 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 policy similar to Chicago Public Schools.

"If Chicago (Public Schools) can pass a policy, U-46 can do the same," said Darlene Gremigna, an AFSC program director.

"We want the board to know that allowing (in peace groups) isn't trend-setting, it's pretty commonplace for us to come in and talk to students."

Currently, U-46 has no legal requirement to allow Perillo's group access.

Morally, however, the situation gets a little stickier.

For many 17- and 18-year olds, choosing a college or a career is a decision that weighs a variety of factors.

It takes time, thought, and most importantly, options.

Joining the armed services is a noble choice for many local high school graduates.

Still, at a time where more and more of the American public is beginning to question the Iraq war, U-46 must make sure that that choice is an informed one, too.

- Kerry Lester covers Elgin Area School District U-46, Central School District 301 and Elgin Community College. She can be reached at (847) 608-2722 or [email protected]@dailyherald.com

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