JROTC ballot measure debated
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Supporters and opponents of JROTC debated whether the program should continue to be allowed in San Francisco's public high schools at the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club meeting Monday, August 11.
Opponents of JROTC Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps say it's a mechanism for recruiting students into the military and discriminates against LGBT people through its hiring practices. Supporters of the program dispute that, and say it teaches students valuable leadership and community service skills.
The San Francisco Board of Education has voted to phase the program out by the 2009 school year. But supporters of the program gathered 13,503 signatures almost twice the required number to put a declaration of policy measure on the November ballot.
The nonbinding measure asks voters to support JROTC.
Monday's meeting did not include a vote; the Alice Club is expected to vote on endorsements in September.
On the pro-JROTC side, Michael Thomas, who was involved in JROTC at Lowell High School, from which he graduated in 1998, said, "It helped direct me, because I needed direction."
Thomas, who is gay, said, "I would not have [gone] to college if not for the JROTC program."
Haley Garabato, a 15-year-old student at Mission High School who's in JROTC and identifies as bisexual, said she appreciates the caring instructors in the program.
"If you need somebody to talk to, you can talk to them," she said.
Quincy Yu, of Choice for Students-JROTC, said, "Whose right is it to take away the choice from our students?" According to information from the group, less than 3 percent of San Francisco's graduating cadets joined the military.
But openly gay school board President Mark Sanchez said 15 percent of students last year said they were put into the program without their choosing.
Sanchez said the problem is not with JROTC discriminating against LGBT students, "discrimination comes in the hiring." However, according to Choice for Students-JROTC, the city's JROTC hiring practices don't allow questions regarding sexual orientation, and an instructor's coming out wouldn't impact their employment.
Paul Kotakis, an Army JROTC spokesman who emphasized he could only speak for that program and not other services, told the Bay Area Reporter that Army JROTC instructors are military retirees. Kotakis said "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," applies only to people who are active in the armed services. DADT prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces.
Mara Kubrin, who said she was threatened because of her opposition to JROTC when she went to Lowell High School, said if there is a need for leadership and discipline skills, "have it at the recruitment center, not our schools."
Former school board member Dan Kelly said poor people and minorities are targeted for recruitment.
According to the San Francisco Unified School District, seven high schools in the district have JROTC programs, with 1,050 students enrolled in 2007-08, down from 1,600 the previous year.
In late June, the school board voted 4-1, with two absences, to eliminate the provision of the physical education credit for JRTOC classes offered in 2008-09.
Students have to have two years of physical education credit to graduate. Before the board's decision, students had been able to enroll in JROTC to fulfill their physical education requirements.
A task force has come up with an alternative pilot program that would include an ethnic studies and leadership development course for ninth graders.
According to information from the school district, the total cost of the JROTC program is about $1.6 million, with about $1.2 million of that money going to salaries. The Department of Defense covers half the cost of program salaries, while the school district pays for the other half, along with staff benefits costs.