Late Tuesday, the House rejected a bill that would require Maine’s schools to grant uniformed military recruiters the same access and opportunity to meet with secondary students as are provided to other postsecondary and career recruiters.

Key word?

“Uniformed.”

The measure required 101 votes to pass as a mandate but failed 96 to 45, just five votes short.

After the votes were tallied, Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, an Army veteran, said he wouldn’t be surprised if there was a citizens initiative started that would require schools to give uniformed recruiters access.

He may be right, and based on community support for active military and veterans in Maine, it would not be a surprise to see that pass.

Why, though, are we even talking about this issue?

Federal law already, in very direct terms, requires schools that receive federal funding — which means all public schools — to give recruiters the same access as college and career recruiters.

Precisely the same access.

So, given that, many lawmakers saw the bill as redundant. And, some argued, there was no real evidence that recruiters are being kept out of schools.

Command Sgt. Maj. Richard L. Hannibal, in charge of recruiting and retention for the Army National Guard in Maine, disagrees.

According to Hannibal, there are seven high schools in Maine that limit military recruiters to one visit per year. No one, during two months of debate, ever said whether college recruiters were also limited to one visit in these schools. That’s a critical piece of missing information to determine whether schools are violating federal law.

In Portland, for instance, military and college recruiters are all limited to no more than seven visits per year. That policy may sound restrictive, but it treats everyone equally.

Since no statistical data was presented regarding how often military recruiters go to which schools and where, and when or if they are denied access, it’s hard to determine whether access is being limited or not.

If lawmakers — or voters considering a citizens initiative — are to make new law, they need to deal in facts.

So, if Crockett is right and Maine moves toward referendum on this issue, recruiters must document their experiences to demonstrate problems with access and track whether they are being treated differently than college recruiters. If they are, schools are violating the No Child Left Behind Act and the National Defense Authorization Act and must be held accountable.

An accusation that popped up during debate on the just-failed recruiters bill that is not addressed in federal law is that some schools in Maine require military recruiters to wear civilian clothes when talking to students.

That’s astonishing. And, it’s wrong.

These men and women are required to wear uniforms while in military service to this country.

If a uniform is required for the job, it should be permitted in our schools. Anything less is a distortion of careers.

No school would ban a police officer or firefighter from wearing a uniform, so why would military recruiters ever be treated differently?

In his written testimony in support of the bill, Commissioner Bowen had it right.

Speaking for the Department of Education, he said: “We are concerned that prohibiting recruiters from appearing in uniform may send a message to students that service in the armed forces is something to which they should not aspire, and that there is somehow something wrong with being in the armed forces. It is hard to see how policies forbidding uniformed recruiters could have any other meaning.”

Maine has had a rich military tradition, with the second-highest concentration of veterans, per capita, in the country, second only to Alaska. For years Maine has also had one of the highest Army recruitment rates in the United States, and more than 10 percent of our population is made up of veterans.

While many of these veterans served in combat, others served as doctors, engineers, journalists, police officers, mechanics and other professionals who were successfully able to translate their skills to civilian careers.

It would be hypocritical for Maine to claim its history of patriotic service and also force military recruiters to disguise themselves in our schools.

If that’s happening, it must stop.

And, if schools are violating federal law by limiting access to military recruiters while granting greater access to college and career recruiters, we need citizens and lawmakers to hold administrators accountable to existing law.

It’s not a question of whether any one person supports or opposes military service, it’s a matter of equity in this land of the free, home to the brave.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.


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