School board split over whether JROTC should count for PE credit

A proposal to lift certain restrictions on military training at San Francisco’s public schools has caused a rift within the Board of Education.

Commissioners Jill Wynns and Emily Murase were set to introduce the resolution Tuesday to strengthen the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. The proposal would lift a ban on school district funding for the program, allow students to receive physical education credit for JROTC and alter the credentials required for JROTC instructors.

The school board shot down a previous version of the proposal May 10 when it was joined with a resolution streamlining the physical education requirements of the San Francisco Unified School District. The two proposals have since been separated, with one focused solely on the district’s updated PE requirements.

The JROTC proposal follows a series of recent efforts to limit the program in the school district, beginning in 2006 with a board resolution to end the program within two years. At the time, the program was criticized for acting as a recruitment arm for the military and discriminating against LGBT students.

While JROTC continued to exist in the school district, by 2008 students could no longer receive physical education credit for the program.

“[Those efforts] were all imposed to squeeze the program, to make it go away,” said Wynns. “The result of that has been to squeeze the students.”

Students currently enrolled in the military training program can earn PE credit, but only through an independent study option. Under the proposal set to be introduced Tuesday, students who have already planned to take JROTC as independant study would still be able to do so.

At the May 10 board meeting, when the proposal was combined with the comprehensive PE resolution, various board members shared their concerns about the expansions to the program.

Commissioner Sandy Fewer said changing the PE requirements could have adverse affects on black and Latino students who don’t have access to gyms and other resources.

“PE is different than physical activity,” Fewer said. “PE is actually physical instruction that tells you how to exercise and why exercise is really important for your body.”

Fewer and others also scrutinized the part of the proposal that would allow the district to pump central funding into JROTC. At present, the Department of Defense provides half of the funding for the program, while school sites allocate funds from their individual budgets to cover the rest of the costs.

In response to a crowd of JROTC students and supporters at the meeting who worried that their program had been threatened, Vice President Shamann Walton said a federal program should not pull money from the district, “especially since students are already doing well in it.”

“What we have here is a policy attempting to make outcomes for our black students worse, disguised as PE reform,” Walton said. “JROTC is just fine and it’s shameful to pit PE against JROTC.”

The proposed resolution would not allocate additional funding for the JROTC, but allow JROTC to receive money from the central fund in the future, Wynns said.

The new version of the JROTC resolution, as well as the PE policy outline, will be sent to both the budget and curriculum committees before heading back to the school board — likely at the first meeting in June — for a vote.

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