updated 8/12/2009 4:51:34 PM ET 2009-08-12T20:51:34

A rural North Carolina school district with a proud military tradition has surrendered to a Quaker peace activist's request for access to high school students so she can warn them about joining the military, attorneys said Wednesday.

For years, Sally Ferrell had been asking permission to talk to students about alternatives to joining the military. The Wilkes County School Board had denied her access, even though military recruiters are typically allowed in schools, and the superintendent had called her activities unpatriotic.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that Ferrell's plight was a matter of free speech, said attorneys reached a settlement this week with school officials granting the group, North Carolina Peace Action, the same opportunities as military recruiters.

Ferrell said in a statement she looks forward to providing job-related information. She has previously touted AmeriCorps and other alternatives to the military.

The government-funded AmeriCorps offers a range of volunteer opportunities including housing construction, youth outreach, disaster response and caring for the elderly. Most participants receive an annual stipend of slightly less than $12,000 for working 10 months to a year.

New restrictions on recruiters
In part, the agreement puts new restrictions on all types of recruiters. Instead of allowing recruiters to set up a table in the cafeteria to meet the students directly, Superintendent Stephen Laws said they will instead meet only with students who specifically sign up to hear about opportunities.

"We're extremely pleased with the agreement, and we're excited about moving on," Laws said.

Recruiters have been relying more heavily on high schools to help fill the ranks of the all-volunteer military. Thousands of people like Ferrell have responded with counter-recruiting groups, saying the military often gives misleading information.

Activists have complained the military often targets high schools in poor and rural areas, where graduating students have limited options. Wilkes County, on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 50 miles west of Winston-Salem, has been hurt by the exodus of manufacturing jobs. Its June unemployment rate was 13.2 percent.

A proud military history
The area has a proud military history going back to Col. Benjamin Cleveland, a Revolutionary War commander who helped defeat the British in the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Ferrell first approached the school district in 2005, but Laws denied access. Two years later, the group reached an agreement with the school board allowing Ferrell in the high schools, but Laws revoked that privilege shortly after.

"We allow recruiters into the schools to recruit for post-high school opportunities. But she wasn't offering that," he said last year.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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