More than 5,000 high school students in five of the state's largest school districts have removed their names from military recruitment lists, a trend driven by continuing casualties in Iraq and a well-organized peace movement that has urged students to avoid contact with recruiters.
The number of students removing their names has jumped significantly over the past year, especially in school systems with many low-income and minority students, where parents and activists are growing increasingly assertive in challenging military recruiters' access to young people.
Since 2002, under the federal No Child Left Behind law, high schools have been required to provide lists of students' names, telephone numbers, and addresses to military recruiters who ask for them, as well as colleges and potential employers. Students who do not wish to be contacted -- or their parents -- notify their school districts in writing.
In Boston, about 3,700 students, or 19 percent of those enrolled in the city's high schools, have removed their names from recruiting lists. At Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, 952 high school students, more than half the student body, ordered the school system not to give their names to the military this year.
Overall, approximately 18 percent of the public high school students eligible in Cambridge, Boston, Worcester, Lowell, and Fall River have opted to remove their names. Though no official national statistics are available, a group founded six months ago to raise awareness of the law said visitors to its website have downloaded 37,000 copies of a form that can be used to remove students' names from the recruiting lists.
''There's momentum you can see," said Felicity Crush, spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based Leave My Child Alone project. ''As soon as people become aware of it, they start to take action."
Students cite the rising death toll in Iraq as a key factor for their lack of interest in the military, but also acknowledge concerns raised by their parents.
Gwen Claiborne, 18, a senior at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, said she had her name removed from the call list at the urging of her father, who served in the military.
''It's much more scary now," said Claiborne, who wants to be an electrician. ''A whole bunch of troops are dying."
Lidija Ristic, 17, a senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, fled war-torn Serbia with her family when she was 4. Now an opponent of the war in Iraq, she said she feels urban students are especially being targeted by recruiters.
''I'm just for peace," she said. ''I think it's horrible that they come here and try to recruit people."
In interviews, military officials downplayed the significance of the trend, and said they do not track the number of students on the lists from year to year. They stress that the contact information from high schools is only one way to reach potential recruits, and there are alternatives, such as motor vehicle registration databases, college day fairs at the schools, or visits to shopping malls.
One Massachusetts Army recruiting commander, however, expressed concern that school officials' increasing efforts to accommodate students who want their names omitted are causing delays in the Army obtaining the contact lists. More than two months into the school year, roughly one-third of the 75 public high schools in communities north of Boston have not handed over their lists yet, said Captain Mark Spear, based in Woburn.
''About 35 percent are still delinquent, and we're haggling back and forth, and they're saying the opt-out [period] hasn't ended," he said. ''By this time of year we would like to have the names in hand."
Lowell High School was among the schools still accepting opt-outs late last week, and had not yet handed over its list to recruiters. ''They get impatient, but we will respond in proper time," said Headmaster William Samaras. ''At times you're pushed, and so you push back."
The No Child Left Behind law requires school systems to inform parents and students that they have the right to withhold their names from recruiters or other groups, and many school systems, including Boston, include an opt-out form in student handbooks. But activists say some schools have not done enough to inform families of their options, and that some parents do not realize their child's information has been passed on until they begin receiving brochures about the armed services or phone calls at home from recruiters.
Several local antiwar groups, including the American Friends Service Committee and United for Justice with Peace, have worked in recent months to spread the word about the provision and distribute postcards that families can send in to their schools to remove their children's names.
''We know that military recruiters create profiles," said Mariama White-Hammond, executive director of Project HIP-HOP, a Boston youth organization that has assisted students in taking their names off the lists. ''They're not going to recruit rich kids from Newton. They're going to recruit our kids."
At Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, peace activists handed out leaflets to students explaining the provision last fall and this fall. In Fall River, the number of students who removed their names jumped from 40 last year to 225 this year, after school officials, responding to a parents' concerns, sent home notices about the law and ran an announcement on the school TV station, an official said.
The military is stepping up its marketing efforts, with a new ad campaign launched by the Pentagon this fall aimed at persuading parents to be more open to their children enlisting. The ads urge parents to ''make it a two-way conversation" if their children raise the idea of joining the military.
Some school leaders are skeptical of peace activists' campaign to separate military recruiters from students, and question whether young people really understand the issue. At Madison Park in Roxbury, activists descended on the school this year with banners and postcards, said Principal Charles McAfee, whose son is in the Coast Guard. ''A lot of [students] didn't really know what they were signing," he said. ''I don't know how you can articulate that [argument] in five minutes."
In addition, not every urban school has seen large numbers of students asking to be left off recruiting lists. In Brockton, fewer than a dozen made the request.
And for some students, the military remains an attractive option. Alan Bonifaz, a senior at Madison Park, wants to be an auto technician, and thinks the military will offer training, money, and adventure. ''I'm inspired by people going to war," said the 18-year-old.