N. CAROLINA | Activist, ACLU threaten to sue school board that banned
August 31, 2008
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
WILKESBORO, N.C. -- Sally Ferrell bounded from the truck and grabbed
a posterboard sign that read: ''War is not the Answer.''
Over the years, she's organized dozens of peace vigils like this one
being set up in a parking lot. Find common ground, she has always
preached, and any conflict can be resolved.
But she's now engaged in a conflict of her own -- a dispute over
military recruiting in high schools that has polarized rural Wilkes County.
For three years, Ferrell has asked permission to distribute pamphlets
and other materials that warn students to think twice before joining
the military. But the school superintendent has stopped her, calling
her activities unpatriotic. The American Civil Liberties Union,
calling it a First Amendment issue, has threatened to sue.
''The students need to know there are alternatives to the military,''
said Ferrell, a Quaker. ''But they're not getting the other side.''
Recruiters have turned to high schools to help fill the ranks of the
all-volunteer military. And they need them more than ever. After five
years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and longer deployments, the
military has been hard pressed to meet recruitment demands. They say
U.S. casualties -- more than 4,600 soldiers killed and 64,000 wounded
in both wars -- have dampened recruiting.
In recent years, thousands of people like Ferrell have joined dozens
of counter recruiting groups. They say recruiters have given young
people misleading information about military service and often target
high schools in poor and rural areas where options for graduating
students are limited; the activists want students to know they have
prospects besides the military.
Most schools have allowed counter recruiters inside. Wilkes County's
opposition could trigger a legal battle.
''Are we going to pursue litigation? I think it's pretty clear that
the school board isn't giving us any choice to do anything else,''
said Katherine Parker, legal director of the ACLU's North Carolina chapter.
Wilkes a rural county where people worked in textile mills and
furniture factories until those manufacturing jobs left. They've been
replaced by fast food and retail jobs. The faltering economy has made
Wilkes County a fertile recruiting ground for the military, members
of Ferrell's group said.
''Many students feel like they have no future,'' said Tom Morris, 56,
a retired engineer and small business owner.
Pointing to an abandoned furniture factory across the street, he
said, ''At one time, hundreds of people worked there. There was hope.
Now, it's empty. There are just no jobs.''
Recruiter Sgt. Andrew Holland, said he never pressures potential
recruits. The key with students, he said, is taking an interest in their lives.
''You go in the cafeteria and develop a relationship. It doesn't have
to be about the Army. Maybe you're at a football game and the kid
made a good play. So the next time you see them, you tell them that.
You become a mentor. And it gets to a point where you become
friends,'' he said.
Some students say they don't mind the recruiters. But others say
they're too aggressive.
''It's a sales job,'' said James Robinson, 17, of Wilkesboro. ''They
try to make it sound glamorous. But what they don't tell you is you
could get killed.''