LAWRENCE, Mass. — Community and peace activist Martina M. Cruz came in first in a three-way race in the first round of voting for School Committee here Sept. 27. She garnered 440 votes out of 995 cast.

Cruz has called for a policy of “education for peace, not war.” She opposes the provisions of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act that compel schools to give the names, addresses and telephone numbers of high school students to military recruiters unless parents or students file a form with the school system to “opt-out.” She says this puts the burden on parents and students, who in many cases are unaware of the option.

“I am going to fight so that in Lawrence, it’s up to students to tell the school, ‘I want you to send my name to the recruiters,’” rather than the other way around, Cruz said during an interview on Oct.1.

Cruz, a leader of Latinos United for Justice here, pointed out that for the last 10 years the armed forces have been making a special effort to recruit Latin American youth in the U.S. “We need jobs for all youth, not to send them to die in Iraq, a country that has not done anything to us,” she said.

Peace is by no means the only issue Cruz is running on.

“We need a School Committee that will listen to the parents, the teachers and the community,” she said. She questioned the effectiveness of the current superintendent, noting that he doesn’t keep the School Committee informed and ignores requests for information.

Cruz pledged to hold regular meetings in the various neighborhoods that make up her district. “I will explain to the community what I am doing and what the School Committee is doing,” she said. “But I also want to hear and take into account what the community, especially the parents, think and want. Nobody else is doing that.”

She has also been critical of the English immersion law in Massachusetts. “This law puts teachers in danger of being sued if they use the student’s language to teach,” she said, calling the situation “ridiculous.” Cruz was a leader in the fight to defeat an anti-bilingual-education ballot initiative in 2002.

When asked how she felt about coming in first, Cruz said, “I think it shows that my message resonates in the community. There are friends that are active in election politics that have been telling me to tone down my message, not to give people a reason to vote against me. But, I cannot do that. I prefer to lose a vote than to lie or keep silent about my principles. Besides, everyone knows what I do, and my candidacy has to be seen in light of my activism.”

The general election will take place Nov. 8.