The role of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) has been debated in San Francisco politics for more than a decade. Supporters believe the program provides a sense of community and important leadership training for its cadets, while opponents have criticized its funding connection to the Department of Defense. These issues appeared to be resolved in 2008, when voters passed Proposition V, which encouraged San Francisco to continue its JROTC program.
Issues of staffing and funding for the program have lived on. In spring of 2016, school board commissioners Jill Wynns and Emily Murase introduced legislation to lift the remaining restrictions on JROTC, as Prop. V had urged them to do. Their proposal would restore the ability of JROTC cadets to receive physical education credit for their JROTC participation, relax the severe credentialing requirements imposed on JROTC instructors and lift the ban on central school district funding.
This resolution was opposed by Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer, a longtime opponent of JROTC programs, and it passed only after the funding ban was left in place. During debate on the legislation, Fewer suggested adding an amendment to the resolution that would bar JROTC students from working on school board campaigns. She later followed through on this idea and introduced a separate proposal that would discourage students from participating in the political process by going so far as to not allow “students to write, address, or distribute political campaign materials.”
Instead of encouraging students to get involved in local politics — which too few young people do today — Fewer is using her role on the school board to do just the opposite. Why? Well it is election season, after all, and Fewer is now running for supervisor in District 1.
Starting with the Prop. V campaign, JROTC students have organized themselves politically to fight off continued efforts from adults like Fewer to dismantle their program. With less than three months to go before she is on the ballot, it is almost guaranteed that JROTC students will not be supporting her campaign and could pose a threat to her politically.
All political organizing in support of JROTC has been carried out by the Friends of JROTC, a community organization that operates outside of the school system. The resolution that Fewer introduced is largely a restating of state laws and existing policy, but the timing of the proposal is clearly meant to intimidate students and instructors in the JROTC program who oppose her campaign. Fewer is sending a message to Friends of JROTC that a political fight that seemed to be over in 2008 can be reopened if she decides to do so.
This proposal will be heard by the school board today. I encourage the commissioners to vote against it.
Samuel Kwong is an architect and candidate for the District 1 seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.