by Mark Gabriel
The Wilkes County Board of Education heard from a team of Army
recruiters Monday over the board's new policy toward military recruitment.
"We just wanted to explain the benefits of coming on campus,"
said Capt. Reginald L. Foster, who commands the Army Recruiting
Company based in Winston-Salem. "There are many educational benefits
that we have for any young person who enrolls in the military. We are
a viable option, and that's the bottom line."
The school board Aug. 11 settled a lawsuit with the North
Carolina chapter of Peace Action, a nonprofit organization based in
Silver Spring, Md., over the issue of military recruitment on campus.
Under the court-mediated settlement approved by the school board,
no military recruiters will be able to visit a high school in Wilkes
County without already having an appointment with a student.
The agreement says recruiters will have two weeks per semester to
schedule on-campus appointments with students.
"We understand your position on that, but we want you to realize
that when we come into an area, we are basically coming in to provide
options to those students," said First Sgt. Tommy Clay, who is an
Army recruiter in Foster's company assigned to several counties in
northwest North Carolina, including Wilkes.
"These are things that our country is asking us to do. I have a
daughter in the Forsyth County schools, and if she wants the
opportunity to serve, it's not something that I would force on her,
even though it's something that I do as a profession. We do provide a
lot of information about those opportunities to students."
On-campus meetings between recruiters and students must be at
locations designated by principals. Follow-up visits between students
and recruiters will occur off campus.
"We don't come in and talk about what other people do, because we
don't know what they do," said Clay. "What we do is help young men
and woman, by providing them with an opportunity to have something in
addition to what they're doing now."
Sally Ferrell of Boomer initiated the legal action by seeking
access to the schools to challenge information provided by military recruiters.
"We understand not everybody is going to join the Army," Clay
told the board. "Everybody has the right to say yes or no to that.
"The thing we are most concerned about is our ability to interact
with kids at their school," Clay told the board. "You have your
viewpoint on what restrictions will be placed on recruiters who come
inside the school system. We're here to serve. That's the bottom
line. We just want the ability to show them what we have to offer."
School officials put the agreement forth during the mediation
process, which was conducted through mediator Dickson Phillips of Chapel Hill.
"I understand your position… I really do. We're just trying to
work within the restrictions we may have here," Clay said. "We want
to let you know that we are here to support this community and the
kids who are here."
The board did not discuss its policy with recruiters Monday, but
heard their statements during the regular meeting's public comment period.
"We appreciate what you do," said board member Peggy Martin
during the board comment section of the meeting. "What's important to
understand is that we did not change our policy. We changed the procedure."