School board won't change JROTC rule
by Heather Tirado Gilligan
In a controversial 3-3 vote at a special meeting Tuesday, the school board failed in an attempt to eliminate physical education credit for the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program for San Francisco Unified School District students.
Citing the last-minute nature of the meeting held June 17 with only 24 hours notice, three board members voted against eliminating PE credit for JROTC classes. The board members argued that logistical concerns, like arranging more PE classes, would make implementing such a change difficult on short notice.
Three other board members, citing a letter from San Francisco-based Public Advocates requesting information that indicated a possible lawsuit, voted for the measure.
The board was tight-lipped about the specifics of the possible litigation, but did say that the letter it received from Public Advocates indicated that the school board was in danger of litigation for violating state rules around JROTC.
The school board has approved eliminating JROTC from the district by the 2009 school year. Among the reasons for discontinuing the program is the military's anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces.
School district officials declined to give the date when the letter was received by the board, explaining that the letter was not a public document.
JROTC instructors are not certified gym teachers and the JROTC content is not approved by the board, said Mark Sanchez, the openly gay president of the school board, in his description of the Public Advocate letter.
The meeting room was packed with members of the public who came in equal measures to testify in favor of and protest against the JROTC program. The vote was significant because disallowing JROTC as PE credit would result in dramatic decreases in the program's enrollment.
Board members seemed frustrated to have the issue back on their agenda after their 4-2 vote in 2006 to phase out JROTC by the end of the 2008 school year, which they later extended to the 2009 school year.
"I thought this was settled," said board Vice President Kim-Shree Maufas, referring to the board's earlier decision to phase out the program.
She expressed regret that the meeting reawakened feelings around what she termed a difficult issue for both supporters and critics of JROTC.
The line of members of the public offering comment on the issue stretched from the podium to the back of the room and included a number of former and current San Francisco district high school students as well as protesters from groups including Veterans for Peace and the Green Party.
Peace protesters argued that JROTC was a recruiting program for the armed forces and strenuously objected to its presence in the schools.
The military also discriminates against LGBTs in clear violation of school district policies, noted queer activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca.
How could the school board tolerate such discriminatory practices even as gays and lesbians married down the street, asked Avicolli Mecca, referring to same-sex couples at City Hall on the first full day of legal same-sex marriage in California.
San Francisco high school students, who filled rows of the meeting room for two hours waiting for the budget meeting to end and the special session to begin, expressed their devotion to JROTC during public comments. Many held signs that read "I love JROTC" and "They want to get rid of our PE credit! That's crazy!"
"No one asked about the students ... people who care about the program like me are being left out," said one Mission High School student.
"I am also a bisexual, and I don't feel any discrimination at all," she said, leaving the podium to the applause of other JROTC supporters.
After two hours of public testimony and debate, commissioners Maufas, Hydra Mendoza and Jill Wynns voted against changing the JROTC rules. Eric Mar, Norman Yee, and Sanchez voted for the change.