Juniors and seniors in Portland High Schools, subjected to a barrage of advertising and sales pitches regarding their future, are allowed at least one filter – they are allowed to tell their school not to give their contact information to military recruiters.
One military recruiter says it is has little difference in the military's ability to attract students. Staff Sgt. Darwin Trotter of the Portland Army Recruiting Battalion says it forces his recruiters to make more face-to-face contact with potential recruits.
"We may not have their name and phone number," he said. "But we're going to the schools and physically seeing them."
According to Portland Public Schools, 3,575 students out of 5,421 told the district not to share their contact information with the military. Despite this, Trotter says recruitment numbers are starting to look a little more normal. Jefferson was the top recruitment school last year and they are in contention with Grant this year for the title.
The last several years, possibly because of active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, recruitment numbers have been down. In 2004-05, 4,729 students allowed military recruiters access to their information. Trotter says his recruitment battalion averages about 30 recruits a year, not counting the other branches of the military. He also says the lists are not always accurate – students who opted-out are on the list and vice versa.
Part of the reason the list even exists is a mandate from No Child Left Behind that forces districts to allow recruiters into schools. Even so, Portland Public Spokesman Matt Shelby says military recruiters complain about the difficulty of recruiting in Portland. Trotter says last year schools were not exactly helpful to his efforts and some limited the time his recruiters were allowed on campus. Trotter estimates he has to talk to five students for every one recruit. Of those five, many are not qualified because of grades, criminal records or other health requirements.
But for all the trouble experienced by recruiters, there is no law mandating equal time for counter-recruiters.
At the end of the 2008 school year, Portland Public Schools decided to no longer let counter-recruitment groups set up shop next to military recruiters. Jollee Patterson, the chief legal counselor for PPS, said it was a slippery slope. Let in one group, then you'll have to let them all in, she said.
"Our main concern is that the only information students get is from the recruiters," says John Grueschow, who has worked in counter-recruitment efforts for decades.
A quiet deadline for the 2008/09 school year passed on Oct. 16 — any student who wished to not have the district share their personal information with the military could opt-out.
Grueschow, who works with the Military and Draft Counseling Project, says he's now taken to distributing fliers on public sidewalks outside of Portland-area high schools. He says he simply wants to put a different perspective out there and help young men and women realize that not all they hear from recruiters is true.
"It's really important that students get accurate information," he said.