JROTC likely to get another year in SF
by Heather Cassell
The San Francisco Board of Education's curriculum and program committee will decide today (Thursday, October 1) whether to extend the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps for another year, because a replacement program has not been developed.
Last November the school board voted 4-2 to phase out the JROTC program by the 2008 academic year. A 15-member task force to develop a program to replace JROTC began to meet this spring, months after the resolution was passed, according to board President Mark Sanchez, who said that internal contention about the decision remains.
"The reality of the matter is, most of the folks at the central office want to retain the program and the Board of Education wants to create the task force [to] implement [a program] in a timely manner."
Sanchez voted for the resolution last year citing the military's discriminatory and exclusionary policies against LGBT individuals, in particular the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
"There were a lot of great things in the program and I want those to be put forward in alternative or new programs ... that don't involve the military's anti-LGBT community hiring practices, which is absolutely what they do in terms of hiring their instructors and that's the main reason I voted the way I did," said the openly gay Sanchez last November after the board's vote.
Robert Powell, director of army instructions for the San Francisco Unified School District and a JROTC instructor at Lincoln High School, who expected to retire last year, told the Bay Area Reporter that "politics shouldn't drive the decision of the board ... national politics ... shouldn't be on the back of high school kids."
Powell, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who is a member of the task force, was more concerned about the students. "We don't want to leave the students in a lurch," he said. He added that some groups might be looking into asking the board to repeal its decision.
Powell didn't want to disclose any of the challenges the task force faced, but said, "It's a monumental task to find an alternative program that has the elements of the JROTC program."
School board member Jane Kim wrote in an October 8 e-mail to the B.A.R., "If the U.S. military changes their discriminatory policy, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' to a policy that is inclusive of all people, including LGBTTQQ individuals, I would consider an appeal to the resolution about JROTC."
Commissioner Jill Wynns pointed to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2007 (HR1246IH), which would amend Title X of the United States Code to replace the DADT policy with a policy of "non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation." While the bill has some bipartisan support, passage is not expected during this session of Congress.
The bottom line for Wynns is providing options for students. Wynns believes, "Taking this program away was unsafe." The program currently replaces two years of physical education courses, Wynns said.
"This is the only time, to my knowledge, that a program that has such universal support from its participants has theoretically been ended," said Wynns on October 8. "That's a tough thing for 1,600 students."
According to Powell, 1,535 students are enrolled in the JROTC program this year. Slightly down from last year's 1,600, Powell said, due to the confusion over whether the program was eliminated this year.
The task force is currently looking at a pilot program made up of the San Francisco Fire Department, San Francisco Police Department, and emergency medical technicians, Sanchez said. He hopes that by next fall a pilot program will replace three of the seven JROTC programs. If all goes well, then in the fall 2009 the new program will replace the remaining four JROTC programs. An estimated $900,000 that the school district budgets annually for the JROTC program in seven San Francisco public high schools will be redirected into the new program for all public high schools.
"I find it disappointing," said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a longtime LGBT community activist who spoke out against the JROTC program last November. "I had hoped that they would have found some program by now ... I really do believe there should be an alternative in our schools to the military."