Ethnic studies enlists as JROTC reserve

A new ethnic-studies program that will be tried in two high schools this fall should replace San Francisco’s controversial Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, a school board committee heard Monday.

The board of education voted to end JROTC in November 2006, wanting to sever the district’s ties with the military, which subsidized about half of the program’s $1.6 million cost that year. The board also created a task force to identify alternatives to a program that has functioned in San Francisco for 90 years.

The JROTC task force weighed and discarded a number of options, including programs offered by police and fire organizations, according to district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe. When the group failed to come up with other options, district board members voted to extend the program until the end of the 2008-09 school year.

“In my mind, [JROTC] is probably the best youth-development program in the country,” task force member Doug Bullard, who teaches the program at Lowell High School, told The Examiner. “Trying to replace it is a difficult task.”

The new ethnic-studies classes would teach students their own and peers’ cultural heritage and help dispel the ethnic slurs and verbal harassment students experience in schools, said task force member Meyla Ruwin, who coordinates district health programs.

While members of the school board’s curriculum committee welcomed the ethnic-studies program as one option, many supported offering more options, including an existing peer-resources program.

“I want to make sure we are replacing JROTC with a concrete leadership program,” student delegate Jason Siu said.

No decisions were made at Monday’s meeting.

Students in JROTC classes learn leadership principles as well as life skills, such as time management and financial planning. Outside of the classroom, they ski, go rafting and compete in drum competitions — activities that allow them to fulfill their physical education graduation requirement, Bullard said.

More than 1,600 high school students were enrolled in JROTC when the board decided to cut the program. By December 2007, enrollment had declined to 858 — though that number bounced back to more than 1,000 this spring, Bullard said.

Meanwhile, JROTC boosters spent this weekend gathering more than 1,000 signatures for a petition that would ask voters this November to decide whether to end the program, according to political consultant Johnny Wang. The measure needs more than 7,200 eligible signatures by July 7 to qualify for the ballot. “We need to give students and their families a choice. The choice doesn’t belong in politicians’ hands,” Wang said.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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