The Portland School Board on Tuesday will consider changes to its military recruitment policy aimed at clarifying state and federal law in the wake of contentious claims by Gov. Paul LePage that some military recruiters weren’t allowed to wear their uniforms or were turned away from certain high schools.

Those claims were never directly confirmed, but the Legislature last session easily passed a bipartisan bill spelling out that military recruiters could wear their uniforms during high school visits.

The proposed changes to the Portland School District’s policy do not change the substance of previous policy, but add language citing federal and state law to clarify both the uniform issue, and that parents may fill out a form opting their children out of being contacted by either military recruiters or college recruiters.

“We didn’t have it clearly stated and we figured it wouldn’t hurt,” Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson said of the changes. “It makes it clearer.”

The policy will get a first read by the board on Tuesday, but will not include board or public discussion. Discussion and a vote will happen at the Nov. 18 meeting.

The school district policy changes weren’t prompted by the political debate, Thompson said. The board has been in a yearlong process of reviewing all of its policies to make sure they are up to date.

For a time, the military recruiter uniform issue was the focus of bitter debate in the capital. An earlier bill – similar to the bill that eventually passed this year – led to emotional floor speeches and accusations that critics were unpatriotic or anti-military, provoking many Democratic supporters to switch their vote to ultimately defeat the bill. LePage called the defeat a disgrace and sent angry, handwritten notes to Democratic lawmakers who voted against the bill.

The debate was fueled by an email that identified seven schools, including Portland, where Maine Army National Guard recruiters said they only were allowed “minimal access.” Officials at all those schools denied that and a spokesman for the Guard said at the time that it was unaware of any Maine school that barred recruiters in uniform.

 


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