School board votes to terminate JROTC program

San Francisco’s public schools will no longer offer the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program starting in the fall of 2008, The City’s school board decided Tuesday night.

Commonly known as JROTC, school board members voted 4-2 to abolish the program as a way of opposing armed conflict and the military’s policy of excluding known homosexuals, despite testimony from program supporters who said JROTC encourages teamwork, problem-solving skills and citizenship.

The decision provoked audible sounds of frustration from the parents, JROTC members, alumni and school faculty who overflowed the board’s chambers, spilling into the lobby and onto the street Tuesday night, to speak out in support of keeping the program. Also, in lesser numbers, dozens of speakers came forward to criticize the program; one high school student from Lowell presented the full board with a petition signed by 700-plus students against JROTC.

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

Under the resolution approved by the school board, JROTC will be phased out in two years. Although an original motion required a task force to develop an alternative program, the board approved a substitute motion requiring that the money for salaries and benefits that supports JROTC — nearly $1 million this year — be redistributed in ways that support the district’s most disadvantaged students.

At the beginning of the meeting, interim Superintendent Gwen Chan, who did not have a vote in the matter, supported the program, saying it produced “self-assured, responsible, respectful leaders.”

Board member Dan Kelly, who co-authored the resolution with board member Mark Sanchez, has worked to eliminate the program during his 16-year tenure on the board. The mission of the military is “antithetical” with the everyday teachings of violence prevention and peaceful conflict-resolution strategies that are infused in San Francisco’s public school classrooms, Kelly said.

Kelly said Tuesdaythat the JROTC was about “military branding, military thinking, military recruiting, and that has to stop.”

Sanchez, who is openly gay, opposes the program because of its link to the military, which bans known homosexuals from enlisting.

Sanchez and Kelly, along with school board members Eric Mar and Sarah Lipson, voted to cut the program; Board of Education President Norman Yee, along with board member Jill Wynn, voted in favor of keeping JROTC. Eddie Chin was absent

Earlier in the day, Mayor Gavin Newsom said he supported keeping the JROTC program within the district and took a jab at the school board for taking on what he called an “ideological decision, not a practical decision.”

“There are thousands of kids and their families that are going to be hurt by this,” Newsom said. “I am not getting a lot of inspiration out of the school board lately about how they are going to improve public schools and keep kids in this city.”

beslinger@examiner.comBay Area NewseducationLocal

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