Gov. Paul LePage’s claim that military recruiters aren’t allowed to wear their uniforms at Yarmouth High School is untrue, according to the principal of the school.
Ted Hall, Yarmouth High School’s principal for the past eight years, said recruiters wear uniforms during visits “all the time.”
“I can understand when we get accused of something that we did, but when we didn’t do it, and don’t do it, that’s pretty frustrating,” Hall said. “The accusation just isn’t true.”
Yarmouth was among eight high schools singled out by LePage in his weekly radio address Friday for restricting access to military recruiters. Officials at three of the schools have now said that the governor’s claim is false.
LePage’s accusations are apparently based on his interpretation of a May 22 email to Education Commissioner Steve Bowen from Sgt. Maj. Richard Hannibal of the Maine Army National Guard.
The email does not make it clear which schools allegedly prohibit uniformed recruiters, and Hannibal did not return a message Friday seeking comment. In a June interview with the Press Herald, he said he could not remember details of the email.
Public schools are already prohibited from barring military recruiters because of a provision in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Schools risk losing federal funding for refusing to release student contact information to military recruiters or prohibiting them from entering their doors.
However, the issue has become politically charged in Maine following the defeat of L.D. 1503 this week in the Legislature. The bill would have ensured that military recruiters are granted the same access to schools as college recruiters.
Democrats who voted against the bill said it wasn’t warranted because there is scant evidence that recruiters lack access to high schools or are prevented from wearing uniforms. Several Democrats said Republicans were using the bill as a political weapon to cast some Democrats as anti-military.
Republicans, including LePage, have since claimed that Democrats had disrespected the military and veterans. The debate escalated this week after 19 House Democrats switched their votes Tuesday to vote against the bill after previously supporting it, killing L.D. 1503 on the last day of the legislative session.
The Maine Republican Party on Wednesday called on Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud to condemn the vote. Michaud is exploring a run for governor in 2014 and has a reputation for being a strong advocate for military veterans. His Republican challengers in congressional races have tried to cut into that support.
LePage, who is running for reelection in 2014, said in his radio message that he was “disgusted” and “appalled” by the legislative Democrats who voted against the measure. The governor also blasted school superintendents who told the Press Herald in June that claims of restricting access were untrue.
“I’d bet my life on the word of a recruiter over a superintendent any day of the week and twice on Sunday,” said LePage in his radio message.
Hall is the third different school official to rebut the administration’s claim.
The Maine School Superintendents Association told the Press Herald in June that it was unaware of any recruiter issues in public schools.
Hall said Friday that neither a recruiter, nor any member of the LePage administration, ever asked about the allegations before submitting L.D. 1503 in May.
“One would think that if there was a problem someone would have called to ask us about it,” said Hall.
Hannibal, the National Guard officer, said in his email to Education Commissioner Bowen that seven schools in southern Maine allowed “minimal access,” including Oak Hill, Noble, Wells, York, Kennebunk, Gorham and Yarmouth high schools.
Hannibal wrote that Yarmouth and Portland high schools allow parents to remove their students’ names from a master list of junior and senior students before the list is distributed to recruiters.
He also wrote that “individual high schools” won’t let recruiters wear uniforms — but he didn’t name any specific school that allegedly does so.
In his weekly radio address, however, LePage said Yarmouth and Portland banned uniformed recruiters.
Hannibal did not respond to three messages left on his cellphone Friday.
Portland officials also could not immediately be reached for comment.
Hall, the Yarmouth principal, said the high school’s policy for recruiters is the same for the military as it is for colleges — and as required by federal law.
Recruiters are allowed to meet with students “in small groups or as individuals, and to meet with our guidance counselors to best meet the needs of our students,” Hall wrote in a statement issued Friday.
“Military recruiters have always been welcome in the school,” he added. “We welcome members of the military to come to the school in their uniforms, whether it is for recruiting purposes or simply to come back to visit their high school and interact with current students.”
He said students are also allowed to miss class to meet with recruiters.
Hall also sent a letter to parents Friday to clear up “misinformation” about the school’s policy.
This year, the governor introduced L.D. 1503, claiming that some schools weren’t allowing military recruiters to wear their uniforms or restricting visits. Democrats challenged that claim during the bill’s public hearing March 31, when Bowen was asked to produce evidence of a problem.
Bowen initially declined to name schools, citing concerns from recruiters that doing so would damage the recruiters’ relationship with school officials.
Bowen eventually told Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, in an email June 6 that recruiters were required to dress in civilian clothes when working at Noble High School in North Berwick and at Sanford High School.
Both schools have rebutted that claim.
Steven Connolly, superintendent for RSU 60, which includes Noble High School, told the Press Herald last month that the school has no policy barring recruiters from wearing uniforms. He added that he had seen students perform pull-ups and push-ups in the school lobby recently during a recruiting event attended by a uniformed Marine.
Sanford Superintendent David Theoharides told the Press Herald that uniformed recruiters were “always allowed” at the high school.
Rep. Joshua Plante, D-Berwick, said during Tuesday’s floor debate that the claims against Noble were “unbelievable.”
“This is a lie,” he said. “I’m not going to accept a lie and I don’t appreciate that my school has been labeled as one that does this when it is not true just to push a political agenda.”
The military recruiter provision was added to No Child Left Behind in 2002. The military had struggled to hit recruitment quotas prior to enactment of the recruiter provision. The Army spent $24,500 per student, according to a 2003 Government Accountability Office report.
Since NCLB, the military has used data mining to target potential recruits.
The Department of Defense collects data through JAMRS, which compiles the names, addresses, cellphone numbers, ethnicity and Social Security numbers of students aged 16 to 25 for the purpose of service recruitment.
Critics of the system claim military recruiters use the database for coercive practices.
Students are allowed to opt out of the database; however, few did until a number of school districts across the country launched awareness campaigns.
In 2005, the Portland School District was one of the schools that launched an opt-out campaign. The effort was led by the Green Independent Party, which at the time had several members on the Portland School Committee.
That same year, the committee passed a military recruitment policy that barred recruiters from high school cafeterias and limited their visits to Portland and Deering high schools to seven per school year.
Prior to the policy, school committee members said military recruiters visited the schools up to 28 times during an academic year.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: