December 4, 2007
Copyright © 2007 Marc Norton
GOOD NEWS... The San Francisco school district administration has decided not to give physical education (PE) credit to JROTC students next year. Beyond Chron has been informed of this decision by Gentle Blythe, head of the school district's public affairs office. Up to now, students could take JROTC as a substitute for PE classes. By eliminating this option, the number of students likely to enroll in JROTC should be greatly reduced.
This policy change appears to be the result of a new state law, SB 601, which was signed by the governor in October. This new law clarifies existing law relating to high school physical education and requires that all PE classes be taught by a certified PE teacher. JROTC instructors, all retired military officers, do not have certification to teach PE.
BAD NEWS... Why is the district talking about JROTC classes next year anyway? According to the resolution passed by the school board over a year ago, there should be no more JROTC classes after the end of the current 2007-2008 school year.
The answer to this question, unfortunately, is obvious. Some of the current school board members are backsliding on the decision reached last year. On November 13, almost a year to the day after the original board decision to phase out JROTC, the board came within a hair's breadth of considering a resolution to extend JROTC for an additional year, although with certain qualifications. In the end, after community pressure from all sides, this resolution was withdrawn, at least for the time being.
It may seem that a one-year extension of the phase out is not that big a deal. Think again. The school board is going to be much different a year from now.
The most resolute school board opponent of JROTC, Dan Kelly, lost his seat in the November, 2006 election. He was a lame-duck member a week later, when he voted to phase out JROTC. Kelly doesn't talk much about it, but he refused induction in 1967 during the Vietnam war, and served two years in jail for his convictions. Whatever Kelly's accomplishments and failings as a school board member, he was an unswerving opponent of the militarization of our schools.
Only two members of last year's anti-JROTC majority remain on the board -- Mark Sanchez and Eric Mar. Both of their terms end in January, 2009, and both are running for supervisor in next year's election. Sanchez is running in Ammiano's District 9, centered on the Mission, and Mar is running in the relatively-conservative District 1 out in the Richmond. The complicated politics of running for Supervisor in this town make it hard to predict just exactly how much political capital either Sanchez or Mar will be willing to expend on banishing JROTC once and for all. Indeed, it was Sanchez who was the lead sponsor of last month's resolution to extend JROTC for another year.
The rest of the school board is even more problematical. That includes Green Party member Jane Kim, the object of the death threat Beyond Chron reported on last week.
Daniel Chin, a student leader of the pro-JROTC movement, was apparently not too happy with Kim when he issued his now-infamous death threat. Yet the Chronicle recently reported that Kim is "willing to support JROTC, but only if there were a way to address the military's discriminatory hiring practice involving homosexuals. She suggested a JROTC diversity curriculum or a cadet campaign against the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy."
This same Chronicle article also reported that the other four current school board members were "open to keeping JROTC alive."
And, of course, nobody knows who will replace Sanchez and Mar on the board.
Given this tenuous situation for anti-JROTC forces, it would seem that any extension of JROTC only buys time for the pro-JROTC side to continue marshalling their forces. Indeed, the Chronicle editorialized recently in favor of JROTC, and claimed that "supporters of JROTC are considering a ballot measure to overturn the 2006 vote."
The school board needs to follow through on the 2006 resolution, not look for excuses to delay and pass the buck.
Despite the spin, the chief proponents of JROTC are not the students. It is the "military-industrial complex," as former President Dwight Eisenhower put it. These are the same people who have brought us Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, who spend billions on all sorts of fantastical high-tech weapons, who organize the butchery of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan -- and of our young men and women sent to fight these wars. They don't want to see San Francisco kick them out of our schools. God only knows what they are capable of doing to prevent it.
The JROTC students are being used by the military just like our troops are used -- as cannon fodder in a much bigger game of war.
Eric Blanc, one of the youth leaders of the movement against JROTC, emailed me after my last Beyond Chron article, providing some more details of the death threat he received.
He got a phone call from a guy who "said his daughter was in the army, we were putting her life in peril by organizing against JROTC, and thus if something happened to her 'he would come after me, chop off my head, and shit down my neck.'"
Sounds a lot like those terrorists we are supposed to be fighting, doesn't it?
The movement to remove JROTC from our schools needs to take itself very, very seriously if we actually want to win.
Still to come: The JROTC Task Force and "alternatives" to JROTC.
When the school board passed the resolution to phase out JROTC, it adopted an amendment calling for the creation of a task force to find "alternative" programs. The best I can tell, the main thing this task force has done is ask for a delay in the implementation of the 2006 resolution. Last Friday, I emailed Assistant Superintendent Margaret Chiu, the district contact for the task force, and asked the following questions:
1- Why did it take from November, 2006 to May, 2007 to convene the task force?
2- Who selected the members of the task force?
3- Who made the decision to close meetings of the task force to the public?
4- When is the next meeting of the task force?
I'll let you know what I hear.