Many parents and their sons are shocked when a letter arrives requiring the senior high school student to register with the Selective Service System (SSS) for a potential military draft. Now that women can also serve in combat duty, in the near future girls also may also be required to register. This applies to documented and undocumented alike. Enlisting is no guarantee of US citizenship, but failure to register with SSS before the age of 26 can bar naturalization in the future.

The presence of military is pervasive in our society, with its impact being felt most by the poor and people of color. It is critical that other avenues be open equitably to all young people.

Law allows military recruiters into schools that receive federal funds, though school districts may determine limits on this access. Truth in Recruitment, a local nonprofit, has been seeking similar and equal access for colleges and other educational programs.

Jenny, a junior at Santa Maria High School (SMHS), writes about how this has affected her: “I am the daughter of field-working immigrants, a student at Santa Maria High, and an advocate for educational rights. Before knowing about Truth in Recruitment, I began to notice that there was a strong military presence at my school. Why is it that they’re always here, and yet we don’t get people presenting about careers or colleges or vocational schools?

“I remember being a freshman at a meeting we had with the SMHS principal,” Jenny continues. “I expressed my concerns but, I felt uncomfortable as my principal, an ex-military man, put me on the spot with questions about why I felt the way I did about military presence at our school. As if it was totally normal to have recruiters and presenters in our classrooms multiple times each week.

“He promised to get us more resources to colleges and career days. But now as a junior I still see my peers being targeted through social media, classroom presentations, and an ever-present military-glorifying culture. Is this because we are people of color from low-income households? I want a college-going culture where we are encouraged to further our education no matter what our background is.

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“I know that Truth in Recruitment will continue to push for a policy that regulates recruiters at our schools in Santa Maria,” concludes Jenny. “ I will continue to be part of that fight …and hopefully one day, we will change the culture of our country.”

The violation of privacy rights is a major concern. Parents can sign a document preventing their student’s information from being released to military recruiters but one parent noted that the Army got the information through student sign up at a raffle game at an Ernest Righetti High School (ERHS) Career Day in 2018. These tactics of collecting contact information directly from students, undermines a family’s right to opt out.

A Freedom of Information Act report revealed that the United States Army visited SMHS and Pioneer Valley High School (PVHS) over 70 times and the Marines visited ERHS over 70 times. Regarding a visit to one of the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District high schools, the Marine recruiter noted, "Coordinated well with the Principal and Assistant Principal, both are very receptive to the United States Marine Corps and open up their school to use on a daily basis if needed." (emphasis added)

We should ask the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District (SMJUHSD): does this high frequency of military access seem appropriate in a school setting and, if so, why? How can the district balance this access with that of college and job recruiters, not to mention groups such as Truth in Recruitment that present non-military options? Does this high incidence of military presence overshadow students’ awareness of other post-high school opportunities? What does the community want their schools’ culture to be like in order to support education?

Truth in Recruitment hosted a Summit on Youth and the Military on Oct. 12 at the Santa Maria Public Library. Speakers included veterans, deported veterans, and high school students and parents. Students reported that at a Santa Maria High School career fair this October, all branches of the military were represented but only one community college — Allan Hancock — had a table. No four-year universities or colleges were present.

If you share these concerns, please give public comment at the next Santa Maria Joint Union High School District school board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 6:30-8 p.m., 2560 Skyway Dr., in Santa Maria. Through our organizing, we will advocate for a balance of information on students’ post-secondary options, and for the SMJUHSD to be more receptive to our community’s needs.

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Kate Connell leads Truth in Recruitment. She can be reached at kate@truthinrecruitment.org. Looking Forward is a progressive look at local issues.