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Education Reporter

San Francisco School Board Wages War on JROTC Program

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San Francisco's school board voted to terminate the city's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, despite strong support for JROTC from the mayor, the superintendent, and 1,600 participating students. Hundreds of students and their families lined the streets before the school board meeting, holding signs to support the program. Those students were dismayed when the board voted 4-2 against JROTC.

Board members opposing the program gave two reasons for their decision. For one, they believe the program thwarts the "curriculum of peace" they want San Francisco city schools to teach. One board member called the program "military branding, military thinking, military recruiting, and that has to stop." Board members also said JROTC "manifests the military's discrimination against LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual transgender) people."

Mayor Gavin Newsom criticized the board for what he called an "ideological decision, not a practical decision." He also warned that the decision sent "the wrong message. It's important for the city not to be identified with disrespecting the sacrifice of men and women in uniform."

JROTC has been in San Francisco schools for 90 years. Over 2,600 high schools nationwide offer JROTC, and several hundred thousand students participate. The Department of Defense estimates that 40% of JROTC cadets go on to perform some military service. Prior to the 1990s, the program was popular mostly in rural areas. Now, about one-third of the units are in inner-city high schools. California has the second-most inner-city JROTC units, after Texas.

Numerous parents and editorialists have attacked the board's arguments, saying the program instills leadership, citizenship, and discipline, rather than "militarizing" education. Colin Powell also defended the program in his book, My American Journey. "The junior program can provide a fresh start in life for thousands of endangered kids, particularly those from minorities living in crime-plagued ghettos," he said.

Several groups, including the American Friends Service Committee and the Project for Youth and Non-Military Opportunities, oppose JROTC nationwide.

Budget analysis indicated the JROTC's cost to the San Francisco school district should roughly equal the cost of replacement gym classes for the 1,600 students affected. The balance of opinion on the board may change, with a new board coming in before the program is scheduled to phase out. However, one newly elected member said she doubts the board will revisit the issue, though she personally supports JROTC.

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