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Violating the Privacy Rights of Students

Why is Georgia Secretly Giving Student Test Scores to Military Recruiters?

by AZADEH SHAHSHAHANI

In 2006, Marlyn, a mother who lives in Gwinnett County with her children, was surprised to hear that her son Kyle, a senior at Brookwood High School, had taken the ASVAB test.   ASVAB or the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test is the military’s entrance exam, given to recruits to determine their aptitude for military occupations.  Marlyn does not recall consenting to her son’s taking of the test or for the results to be sent to military recruiters.  Her son did not know either that the results will be sent to recruiters.  Kyle was subsequently contacted by recruiters and Marlyn had a tough time getting them to stop once Kyle had made a college selection.

Marlyn and Kyle are certainly not alone.  In fact, Georgia’s record in terms of protecting the privacy of students who take the ASVAB test has gotten even worse over the years.

With the start of the school year, the ACLU Foundation of Georgia sent a letter to Georgia’s State School Superintendent, Dr. Barge, asking for protection of privacy rights of Georgia’s high school students who take the ASVAB.  Even without a student’s or parent’s consent, the ASVAB test may be used to send highly sensitive information about a student to the military for purposes of recruitment.  After the administration of the ASVAB test, military representatives may directly communicate with youth to suggest military career paths, based on the individualized profiles ascertained from their test data.

U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (USMEPCOM) Regulation 601-4 identifies the options schools may choose regarding the administration and release of their students’ ASVAB results.  These options include Option 8, which provides high schools and their students with the students’ test results, but does not entail automatically sending the results to military recruiters.

In its letter, the ACLU of Georgia asks that a state-wide policy that requires schools to protect such information be adopted in Georgia, specifically, a policy that requires the selection of option 8 by school officials.

States such as Maryland and Hawaii and cities such as New York City have required that their public schools respect student privacy by enacting laws and policies in which schools must choose Option 8 when the ASVAB test is administered.

In documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, not a single high school in Georgia selected option 8 during the 2010-2011 school year, while the ASVAB test results of more than 26,000 students was marked by Options 1-6, meaning test results and student information may be released to recruiters without prior consent.  The data for 2011 covering more than 29,000 students indicates the same.

If school officials do not select a release option, the school’s Educational Support Specialist will select Option 1 which entails automatically releasing the information to military recruiters.  In 2009-2010, 83.9% of the children in Georgia were tested under Option 1.  This percentage had increased to 87.7% of Georgia’s students in 2010-2011.

This lack of protection for students’ privacy also contravenes the obligations of the U.S. government and the State of Georgia under international law.

The U.S. ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict in 2002.  The Protocol is therefore binding on the U.S. government and state and local government entities and agents, including Georgia public schools.

As part of the treaty mechanism, the U.S. has to submit a report every four years to the Committee on Rights of the Child (CRC), the United Nations body that monitors compliance with the Optional Protocol.

The U.S. government’s latest report to the CRC will be reviewed by the Committee in January 2013.  The list of issues to be discussed during this review includes the use of the ASVAB test in schools including the age of children who were given this test and whether parents have the possibility to prevent their children from taking it.

We hope that this will be an opportunity for the U.S. government and Georgia schools to provide needed transparency and to be held accountable to their international obligations as well as obligations to protect the privacy of Georgia students.

Azadeh Shahshahani is the Director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia. She is the president-elect of the National Lawyers’ Guild.