PORTLAND, MAINE — Maine school officials on Monday disputed Gov. Paul LePage’s claims that they prevent uniformed military recruiters from meeting with students.
Portland Public School officials said the district’s four high schools allow uniformed military recruiters to speak with students. Military recruiters have a table set up in or outside the guidance office, Portland High School Principal Deborah Migneault said in a statement.
“We want our students to know the full range of postsecondary opportunities available to them, including military service,” said Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk.
In a radio address Friday, LePage, a Republican, bashed Democrats for rejecting legislation to mandate that schools institute policies providing uniformed military recruiters the same access to students as other college and career recruiters.
Several Democrats, including House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick and Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland, supported the bill, but some said it was unnecessary because there is no factual evidence of a problem. The measure failed by a handful of votes in the House before lawmakers adjourned for the session.
LePage said it was brought to his administration’s attention that high schools in Portland and Yarmouth “refused uniformed recruiters from stepping on campus.” He also singled out several other schools in southern Maine that he said only allow minimal access to recruiters.
In a May email to the Department of Education, Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Hannibal of the Maine Army National Guard said several schools only allow military recruiters into the school once per year. Other schools prevent recruiters from wearing uniforms or remove the names of juniors and seniors from the list available to recruiters, he said.
“The Democrats’ blatant rejection of this bill sends a message to all military service members — past and present — that they are not welcome in Maine’s public school system,” LePage said.
Connie Brown, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, said they have no knowledge of any districts preventing recruiters on campus or telling them they cannot appear in uniform.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, public schools must provide military recruiters the same access as college and career recruiters in order to receive funding. The National Defense Authorization Act also requires that high schools provide military recruiters the names, addresses and telephone numbers of juniors and seniors.
Alfond spokeswoman Ericka Dodge said he supported the bill because Portland schools allow students to opt of being contacted by military recruiters. While this complies with federal law, Alfond “believes that honorable men and women who have served our country have the opportunity to share their career experiences,” she said in an email.
Ted Hall, principal of Yarmouth High School said the school has never refused uniformed military recruiters from stepping on campus and has never received any complaints from recruiters about limited access.
“What the governor said is just not accurate,” he said. “It’s frustrating because I think that we provide an environment for both college and military recruiters that’s open ... we really try to encourage all kind of post-secondary options, including the military,” he said.
LePage Communication Director Peter Steele said the administration stands by the information that has been provided to them from military personnel.