Wednesday, December 4, 2013
PORTLAND – School officials say the governor was wrong in claiming that military recruiters aren't allowed to wear uniforms when they visit Portland schools.
In this March 2012 file photo, U.S. Army recruiters Sgt. Stephen Wallace (left) and Sfc. Brandon Didier talk with students at the Portland Arts and Technology High School. 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.
"Contrary to a claim by Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Portland's four public high schools all allow military recruiters in uniform to speak with students about military careers," said Chief Academic Officer David Galin in a news release Monday.
In his most recent weekend radio address, LePage singled out Portland and Yarmouth high schools, saying they barred uniformed recruiters from campus. Both school districts have now denied that.
Yarmouth High Principal Ted Hall said Friday that recruiters wear uniforms during visits "all the time."
So far, three schools have been singled out by the LePage administration as barring recruiters in uniform. All three have denied it.
In an email to a state legislator on June 6, Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said a recruiter named Sanford High as "one of the schools" where he was asked to wear civilian clothes. But the superintendent said Sanford has no such policy.
LePage's communications director, Peter Steele, said in an email Monday: "In the past Maine schools have limited access for military recruiters, and some recruiters were told they could not wear uniforms on school property. School officials are free to deny that shameful behavior. But we stand by the information provided to the LePage administration by professional military personnel."
Steele said, "If school officials now claim that they provide military recruiters with the same access that is offered to other college and career recruiters, then we are pleased that Maine students will get the opportunity to explore career options in our nation's military services."
LePage also said in his radio address that seven schools in southern Maine "allow only minimal access of recruiters." Several of those schools have denied that.
The debate over military recruiters has been political since the Legislature rejected L.D. 1503, which would have ensured that "uniformed" military recruiters have the same access to schools that college recruiters have.
Democrats who voted against the bill said it wasn't warranted because there is scant evidence that recruiters lack access or are prevented from wearing uniforms. Several said Republicans used the bill to cast Democrats as anti-military. Republicans, including LePage, have since claimed that Democrats disrespected veterans.
LePage's statements apparently are based on his interpretation of an email to Bowen on May 22 from Sgt. Maj. Richard Hannibal of the Maine Army National Guard.
The email does not say clearly which schools allegedly prohibit uniformed recruiters. Hannibal would not comment Monday. He referred questions to Peter Rogers, spokesman for Maine's Army National Guard and a former communications director for LePage.
Rogers said Hannibal has confirmed everything in his email.
"We're feeling like people are looking at us like we're making this stuff up, and we're not," Rogers said, noting that Hannibal got the information directly from "five or six" recruiters. "We also have the confidence that the information our recruiters have given us is accurate."
When asked which schools barred uniformed recruiters, Rogers said: "There are no schools that we know of that have barred recruiters in uniform."
Rogers said his understanding is that the issue arose from a specific incident in which a recruiter was asked not to wear a uniform while giving a timed multi-aptitude test to potential recruits at a particular school.
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