Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) of 2001, which amended the Elementary and
Secondary Education Act (ESEA), high schools that receive federal funds must provide certain
student contact information to military recruiters upon request and must allow recruiters to have
the same access to students as employers and colleges. Because the 111th Congress is likely to
consider reauthorization of the ESEA, legislators may contemplate changes to the military
recruitment provisions, either as part of the reauthorization or as stand-alone legislation.
Currently, one bill, S. 87, has been introduced in the 111th Congress. This report describes the
NCLBA military recruitment provisions and discusses the legal issues that they may raise.
Access to Student Information ........................................................................................................ 1
Equal Access to Students................................................................................................................. 2
Legal Concerns................................................................................................................................ 3
Author Contact Information ............................................................................................................ 4
hen Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) of 2001,1 it added
several new requirements regarding the ability of military recruiters to access student
information and to approach students directly. These new provisions—which are
different from similar Department of Defense (DOD) provisions that allow DOD to compile
directory information on high school students for military recruitment purposes or that require
colleges and universities that receive federal funds to allow military recruiters on campus2—have
proven to be somewhat controversial. Proponents of the recruitment provisions argue that the new
law allows recruiters to inform students about the military opportunities available to them and
eases the task of recruiting volunteers to sustain the nation’s military forces. On the other hand,
opponents contend that the provisions raise concerns about student privacy and should be
changed to make it easier to opt out.3 Approximately 95% of the country’s school districts are
estimated to be complying with the new requirements,4 although it is important to note that,
traditionally, most schools had already allowed military recruiters to contact students long before
the NCLBA provisions became mandatory.5
The new NCLBA military recruitment provisions require high schools that receive federal funds
to meet two requirements. First, such schools must “provide, on a request made by military
recruiters ..., access to secondary school students names, addresses, and telephone listings,”6 and
second, schools must “provide military recruiters the same access to secondary school students as
is provided generally to post secondary educational institutions or to prospective employers of
those students.”7 Schools that fail to comply with either of these two requirements—access to
student information or equal access to students themselves—risk losing federal funds. However,
private secondary schools that maintain a religious objection to military service are exempt from
the recruitment provisions.8
As noted above, schools must, when requested, provide military recruiters with information
concerning student names, addresses, and telephone numbers. Unlike more personal information
such as Social Security numbers, this type of data is not protected by the Family Educational
P.L. 107-110, 115 Stat. 1425.
10 U.S.C. §§ 503, 983. The requirements relating to institutions of higher education were the subject of a legal
challenge, but the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the statutory provisions requiring military access to
college campuses that receive federal funds. Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic & Institutional Rights, Inc., 547 U.S. 47
(2006). For more information, see CRS Report RS22405, Military Recruiting and the Solomon Amendment: The
Supreme Court Ruling in Rumsfeld v. FAIR, by Charles V. Dale. For historical background on DOD provisions
regarding military recruitment on high school and college campuses, see CRS Report RL30113, Homosexuals and the
U.S. Military: Current Issues, by David F. Burrelli and Jody Feder. DOD recently published new regulations regarding
military recruitment at institutions of higher education. Military Recruiting and Reserve Officer Training Corps
Program Access to Institutions of Higher Education, 73 FR 16525 (March 28, 2008).
Tamar Lewin, “Uncle Sam Wants Student Lists, and Schools Fret,” N.Y. Times, January 29, 2003, at B1.
Alfred J. Sciarrino, From High School to Combat? No Child Left Behind!, 36 U. West. L.A. L. Rev. 94, 94 (2005).
Lori Aratani, “Military Faces Parental Counterattack; High School Recruitment, a Longtime Tradition, Raises
Worries in Wartime,” Wash. Post, November 1, 2005, at B1.
20 U.S.C. § 7908(a)(1).
Id. at § 7908(a)(3).
Id. at § 7908(c).
Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA),9 which currently allows the release of student directory
information in the absence of parental objections.10 Thus, even before the NCLBA provisions
were enacted, such student contact information was potentially available to outside entities.
Like FERPA, the NCLBA also provides the opportunity to opt out of the provisions requiring the
release of directory information to military recruiters. Under the NCLBA, students or their
parents may request that the student’s directory information not be released without prior written
consent. In addition, the local educational agency or private school must notify parents of their
right to make such a request.11
Schools appear to have interpreted these opt out provisions in a variety of ways. For example,
some schools have, as part of their compliance with an array of privacy laws, issued a general
notice informing parents that they can opt out of the release of student contact information, while
other schools have issued a separate and more explicit notice informing parents that such
information may be released to the military for recruitment purposes if the parents do not opt out.
Both of these types of notice appear to meet the statutory requirement regarding informing
parents of their right to opt out, but recipients of the latter type of notice may be more likely to
exercise that option. As a result, the type of notice that a school elects to provide has been a
subject of debate.12
In addition, the notification provision has become controversial in part because schools have
interpreted parental responses in different ways. For example, if parents fail to respond to the
notice informing them of their right to opt out of the release of student information, some schools
interpret the lack of response as indicating that the parent does not wish to opt out, while other
schools interpret a lack of response as signifying that the parent does want to opt out. As a result,
some interest groups have pressed legislators to clarify the law with regard to this point.13
In addition to requiring schools to provide access to student information, the NCLBA also
requires schools to provide access to students themselves. Specifically, schools must provide
military recruiters the same access to students as is otherwise provided to other recruiters, such as
private employers or institutions of higher education.14 As with the notification provisions,
schools have implemented the equal access provisions in a variety of ways. For example, some
schools allow extensive access, permitting recruiters to set up information tables, visit
classrooms, and freely approach students anywhere on campus. Other schools permit a lesser
degree of access, and some restrict military access even further by forbidding information tables,
requiring appointments before recruiters can meet students, and otherwise limiting access to
Id. at § 1232g. For more information on FERPA, see CRS Report RS22341, The Family Educational Rights and
Privacy Act (FERPA): A Legal Overview, by Jody Feder.
20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1).
Id. at 7908(a)(2).
Aratani, supra note 5, at B1.
Id.; see also, Michael Dobbs, “Schools and Military Face Off; Privacy Rights Clash With Required Release of
Student Information,” Wash. Post, June 19, 2005, at A3.
20 U.S.C. § 7908(a)(3).
campus.15 Despite these variations in school policy, schools are allowed to place as many or as
few restrictions as they wish on military recruiters, as long as schools treat such recruiters the
same way they treat other entities that wish to contact students.
As noted previously, some opponents of the NCLBA military recruitment provisions have raised
legal concerns about the new requirements. In particular, some critics have questioned whether
the recruitment provisions violate a student’s right to privacy, but neither statutory nor
constitutional analysis appears to support this argument. Indeed, from a statutory perspective, the
NCLBA provisions regarding release of student contact information are, as noted above, entirely
consistent with FERPA, the longstanding law that protects the educational privacy rights of
students. Likewise, the NCLBA military recruitment provisions, for the reasons discussed below,
do not appear to raise constitutional concerns.
Under the auspices of the Fourteenth Amendment,16 the Supreme Court has recognized that there
is a constitutional right to privacy that protects against certain governmental disclosures of
personal information,17 but it has not established the standard for measuring such a violation. In
the absence of explicit standards, the circuit courts have tended to establish a series of balancing
tests that weigh the competing privacy interests and government interests in order to determine
when information privacy violations occur.18
In Falvo ex rel. Pletan v. Owasso Independent School District No. I-011,19 the Court of Appeals
for the Tenth Circuit weighed the plaintiff’s claim that peer grading and the practice of calling out
grades in class resulted in an impermissible release of her child’s education records in violation of
FERPA. The plaintiff also claimed that the practice of peer grading violated her child’s
constitutional right to privacy. Although the court, in a holding that was later reversed by the
Supreme Court,20 ruled that the practice of peer grading violated FERPA, the Tenth Circuit denied
the plaintiff’s constitutional claim. In rejecting this claim, the court applied a three-part balancing
test that considers “(1) if the party asserting the right has a legitimate expectation of privacy, (2) if
disclosure serves a compelling state interest, and (3) if disclosure can be made in the least
intrusive manner.”21 Based on the first prong of this test, the Tenth Circuit rejected the plaintiff’s
constitutional claim because it ruled that student’s school work and test grades were not highly
personal matters that deserved constitutional protection.22
Like peer graded student homework assignments, the release of student names, addresses, and
telephone numbers to military recruiters would probably not be viewed by a court as violating a
student’s constitutional right to privacy under such a balancing test. Unlike Social Security
Dobbs, supra note 13, at A3.
U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.
Whalen v. Roe, 429 U.S. 589 (1977).
See, e.g., Flanagan v. Munger, 890 F.2d 1557, 1570 (10th Cir. 1989); Plante v. Gonzalez, 575 F.2d 1119, 1134 (5th
233 F.3d 1203 (10th Cir. 2000).
Owasso Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Falvo, 534 U.S. 426 (2002).
Falvo ex rel. Pletan v. Owasso Indep. Sch. Dist. No. I-011, 233 F.3d 1203, 1208 (10th Cir. 2000).
Id. at 1209.
numbers or medical records, for example, it is unlikely that a court would hold that individuals
have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the type of basic contact information that is typically
found in a phone book. Furthermore, the government could argue persuasively that the release of
such information serves a compelling state interest in facilitating the maintenance of the nation’s
armed forces. Finally, a court would probably view the disclosure required by the NCLBA as
minimally intrusive, given that students can either opt out of the information release or decline to
join the military, or both.
Ultimately, a court reviewing any privacy based challenge to the NCLBA military recruitment
provisions would be likely to reject such a claim, especially in light of the fact that Congress was
clearly acting within the scope of its constitutional authority when it enacted the military
recruitment provisions of the NCLBA. Under the Spending Clause of the Constitution,23
Congress frequently promotes its policy goals by conditioning the receipt of federal funds on state
compliance with certain requirements. Indeed, the Supreme Court “has repeatedly upheld against
constitutional challenge the use of this technique to induce governments and private parties to
cooperate voluntarily with federal policy,”24 and the Court recently reaffirmed this principle
when, in response to a First Amendment challenge, it upheld similar military recruitment
provisions that apply to colleges that receive federal funds.25 Thus, the Court would likely uphold
the NCLBA provisions in part on the basis of congressional authority under the Spending
U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 1.
Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 474 (1980).
Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic & Institutional Rights, Inc., 126 S. Ct. 1297, 1306-07 (U.S. 2006).
A search of the legal database Lexis-Nexis for cases involving challenges to the NCLBA military recruitment
provisions revealed no results.