Board of Education may end high school JROTC program

A popular military program may be eliminated from San Francisco’s public high schools by a vote of The City’s school board tonight, as a way of opposing armed conflict and the military’s policy of excluding known homosexuals.

After months of relative peace and solidarity between the school board, parents and city leaders — who all worked together in recent months to get a $450 million school bond passed — supporters of Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps are expected to fill the school board chambers in protest tonight.

“We have a full agenda of speakers, from principals, to administrators, to alumni and parents,” said Lt. Col. Robert Powell, who oversees the district’s JROTC program. “The whole purpose is to tell the school board, if we’ve got the entire community behind the program, then who do you represent?”

Last year, 1,650 students were enrolled in JROTC programs at Lincoln, Balboa, Washington, Lowell, Mission, Galileo and Burton high schools.

Enrollment in the program is up, according to Powell, but it has not been popular with San Francisco’s school board in recent decades. About 10 years ago, the school board banned the use of guns or other combat equipment for the program.

Two separate resolutions will go before the school board tonight for a vote calling for the program to be phased out in one or two years, respectively. The original motion requires a task force to develop an alternative program and the substitute motion asks that the money that supports JROTC — last year about $572,111 — be redistributed in ways that support the district’s most disadvantaged students.

School board member Mark Sanchez, who is openly gay, said the program’s link to the military, which bans known homosexuals from enlisting, is at odds with district policy that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“I think if people substituted African-American for gay, you just didn’t allow African-Americans, or Catholics, in the military, you’d have an outcry,” Sanchez said.

Although there has never been an openly gay JROTC instructor within the district, there are openlygay students in the daily class, Powell said.

Earlier this month, Mayor Gavin Newsom said he supported keeping the JROTC program within the district, adding that if it were banned, the board should put a program that creates the same experience of teamwork and leadership in its place.

“Because this would have been an attack on Nancy Pelosi and the quote-unquote values of San Francisco,” Newsom said. “And the cheap-shot artists like [Bill] O’Reilly and Fox would have exploited it.”

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