School board takes aim at JROTC

At Lincoln High School, the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps indoor shooting range and a secure armory has been replaced by a classroom and a locked storage space that holds computers and televisions paid for by the Department of Defense.

And although JROTC enrollment has increased, the program remains unpopular with San Francisco's school board. It was the school board, in the mid-’90s, that decided students in the federal program would no longer learn to use guns or any other combat equipment. Now, some members of the school board say it's time to kill the program altogether.

With 1,650 San Francisco Unified School District students enrolled, there are also JROTC programs at Balboa, Washington, Lowell, Mission, Galileo and Burton high schools. Lincoln is home to the district's strongest JROTC program, in part because its head, Col. Robert Powell, also oversees the military-based program districtwide.

On Tuesday, board member Mark Sanchez will submit a resolution that calls for all JROTC units at district campuses to shut down at the end of the 2006-07 school year, due to the military's policy of excluding persons known to be gay or lesbian from its enlisted ranks.

“The San Francisco Unified School District cannot justify committing any funding to a JROTC program because its connection to the U.S. Department of Defense suggests that discrimination against some groups is tolerable,” reads Sanchez's resolution, which is co-sponsored by veteran school board member Dan Kelly.

Kelly said he attempted to pass a similar resolution about 10 years ago, and other board members before him had also tried to eliminate the program, but without success.

The district contributed more than $572,111 pay for half of the salaries of 15 full-time JROTC instructors, with DOD paying the other half. The remaining cost of the program is picked up by DOD — books, computers and other supplies.

According to Powell, the district's JROTC program is less about the military and more about citizenship.

“What students get out of JROTC is an opportunity to experiment with leadership, get subjects such aid. We also do physical training and teamwork and character-building,” he said.

Several JROTC students interviewed by The Examiner were frustrated with the threats to close the program, saying JROTC had taught them hands-on life skills such as leadership, teamwork and camaraderie.

Although there are no openly gay JROTC instructors within the district, there are students participating in the daily class who are gay, Powell said.

JROTC students interviewed said there were gay students within their ranks and that they were treated just like any other student.

David Ziman, a senior at Lincoln who plans to attend UC Santa Cruz next year, said that although he got into JROTC because of his interest in the military, the program has taught him more skills applicable to business.

“There's more discrimination on the football team,” Ziman said.

beslinger@examiner.com

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