Hey Kid, Ever Considered a Career in the Peace Business?
At Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School, back-to-school preparations include a debate over whether antiwar activists will be allowed at the school's annual career day, just as military recruiters are.
The effort is led by a Bridgewater-based group called Citizens for an Informed Community. Spokesman Vernon Domingo, a Bridgewater resident and Bridgewater State College geography professor, said the group simply wants to promote thought-provoking discussion.
"We're local, we live here and work here, and we support this country," said Domingo. "We're patriotic in the sense that we want this country to be as good as it can be."
Domingo, along with Bridgewater resident and former Massasoit Community College adjunct professor Raymond Ajemian, helped form Citizens for an In formed Community shortly before the invasion of Iraq. Since then, it has enjoyed some local success, for example, prompting Bridgewater Town Meeting to formally protest the federal Patriot Act in 2004, and, more recently, to call on Congress to get out of Iraq.
Citizens for an Informed Community is now looking to make some policy changes in the School Department that would allow the group to deliver its message at Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School. At least two other towns -- Cohasset and Milton -- have allowed antiwar representatives to attend career days.
Ajemian said the group has three goals: to secure the right to set up a table at the high school's career days; and to get school administrators to better inform students of their right to opt out of the armed services vocational aptitude tests given at high schools, and of their right to block the military from getting personal information for recruitment purposes.
The information that military recruiters hand out at career day doesn't paint a full picture, said Ajemian.
"The brochures say nothing about dying and nothing about post-traumatic stress syndrome," said Ajemian, who is a Vietnam era veteran.
He also said that promises of college tuition payments for those who sign up for duty sometimes don't pan out.
"The issue is, both sides should be allowed in, or neither side should be," Ajemian said. "What's the fear? That students are going to get indoctrinated?"
Last spring, Ajemian secured permission from high school principal Jeffrey Granatino to come for Bridgewater-Raynham's career day. Superintendent George Guasconi, who has since retired, overruled the decision, saying it was not within school policy.
Citizens for an Informed Community recently repeated the request to the Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School Committee, and a subcommittee was formed to study the issue.
Study committee member Joseph Gillis says he agrees with Guasconi's call, but his group is still researching the issue, and will meet with Granatino before returning to the full School Committee next month with a recommendation.
"Career days are to provide our students with steps they can take after graduation, whether that be Brown University, Bridgewater State College, New England Tractor-Trailer School or the Army or Navy," Gillis said.
"This group wants to have a debate. That's not what these career days are for."
Gillis said that allowing the citizens group in to career day would open a "Pandora's box."
"If we open it up to them, others, seeing it as a forum for discussion, will want to set up tables, too," Gillis continued. "That's not the purpose of the fair."
Members of Citizens for an Informed Community met with the subcommittee recently. Gillis said group members talked about students being harassed by recruiters, even at their homes.
"But most of the horror stories they told were from far off, in other parts of the country, not in Bridgewater," Gillis said. "Because I'm not hearing complaints from people here in town, I'm not sure we need to do anything about this."
In Cohasset, Schools Superintendent Denise Walsh said she left the decision of whether to allow the counter-recruiters in to the high school to principal Joel Antolini, "just as we would have if the Garden Club or any other group wanted to come in." Antolini said the group was granted permission to come to the school two years ago.
"We allow them to come and display antiwar messages and antirecruitment materials, at the same time we allow military recruiters to come," Antolini said. They can set up tables during lunchtime, but they have to wait for students to approach them, rather than initiating contact, he said.
Antolini said Cohasset High School's handbook provides students and parents with information on withholding information used by military recruiters. "Also when we announce our back-to-school program, we inform the students they can sign forms that night to opt out," he said.
Milton High School principal John Drottar said he allows the counter-recruiters to hand out literature at the school's three career fairs, just as military recruiters are allowed to do.