Crawford High School, 900 Building; Hoover High, 800 Building; Lincoln High, Room 1416; Madison High, Room 206; Mission Bay High, Room 162; Serra High, Room 415; Morse High, JROTC Room. If you would like to see San Diego high school students learning to use guns, these are the locations of some of the shooting ranges on our campuses.
The San Diego community at large, grassroots organizations, parents, teachers and students all understand the absurdity of having weapons training on San Diego high school campuses. Readers of this article undoubtedly recognize the same. Amazingly, the San Diego Board of Education does not see the contradiction in enforcing “zero tolerance” while at the same time promoting target practice. Or is it that they are too afraid to enforce the zero-tolerance principle when it comes to a military-sponsored program? Eleven out of the thirteen San Diego high schools with JROTC have weapons training programs. And these gun ranges are not located at police or military facilities, but rather on public high school grounds!
Since its formation in October 2007, the Education Not Arms Coalition (ENAC) has campaigned for the removal of weapons training from all San Diego City schools. In response, it has been hearing outrageous justifications for the shooting ranges from the Board and JROTC instructors. “It’s an Olympic sport.” “It helps with stress levels and teaches concentration.” “Students can get scholarships just like in any school sport.” Do they really seriously believe these absurd rationalizations?
A second concern of ENAC has been the tracking of students into JROTC. The raising of this issue has provoked even more blatant manipulation and lies by school officials. Counselors and administrators have claimed they are not placing students into JROTC who have not asked for it, yet based on student and parent reports, the practice is widespread and places the school district in violation of California Education Code 51750 (“No student . . . shall be required to enroll in any course in military science and tactics.”).
“There’s no more room in P.E.” “Sorry, there’s no more room in the elective that you want. Why don’t you try JROTC?” “JROTC will help you get into college.” “JROTC will teach you leadership skills.” “JROTC will help you get college scholarships.” “In JROTC, you can get out your aggressions by ordering other kids around.” These comments by counselors have been reported over and over by students. The truth is that JROTC merely counts for physical education credit or as a non-academic elective and does not count in grade-point average calculations for college admission. The truth is that JROTC creates followers, not leaders. And despite the fact that half a dozen students have had the courage to stand at Board meetings this year and give verbal testimony regarding forced placement into JROTC, the Board has refused to publicly discuss the issue.
ENAC’s third point of contention has been the lack of parent consent. Again stating untruths, the JROTC instructors have claimed that they have collected signed parental consent forms for each student. Yet, after an investigation at a single school (Lincoln), the JROTC program coordinator admitted that consent forms for six students were not on file at the campus. At least one other school, Mission Bay High, is now being audited. What the Board continues to ignore is that the forms that are collected are not even given to students to take home to parents until AFTER they are placed in the class. Instead, consent should be obtained before students are enrolled in the class.
The Coalition’s issues were placed on the April 22 school board meeting agenda by board member John de Beck. It turned out to be the best and most emotional confrontation with the board yet. With a packed and very loud audience of supporters behind them, two teachers, two students and two community members spoke in support of the coalition’s issues. Unfortunately, the board refused to second a proposal by Mr. de Beck to stop the Mission Bay High shooting range, and they refused to address ENAC’s concerns in any dialogue. However, a little later in the board meeting, they allowed MBHS principal Cheryl Seelos ten minutes of time to make outrageous claims regarding her new and favorite school program (JROTC). She greatly exaggerated the number of students in JROTC, claimed that the shooting range was not displacing other classroom teachers, and falsely denied that other academic programs were suffering (specifically, the college-prep AVID and advanced placement classes) from a lack of funds and a lack of support. To listen to an audio recording of the April 22 meeting, go to www.projectyano.org/educationnotarms.
It is shocking that the Board accepts as truth the comments by Principal Cheryl Seelos. She has been reprimanded for disclosing private medical information about a protesting student to a reporter and has also received a lengthy warning letter from the ACLU for instances where students were improperly stopped from leafleting at her school. On another occasion, a student’s protest button was confiscated by a school official and not returned.
Refusing to give up and accept the many misstatements made by JROTC defenders, ENAC submitted a lengthy rebuttal to the Board and to Superintendent Grier. Also, in response to Principal Seelos, a three-page letter and attached documentation was submitted by a teacher at MBHS. Articles were published by Voiceofsandiego.com (May 2) and San Diego Weekly Reader (June 4), and there were two Radio KPBS interviews with Ana Tintocalis (links to these interviews are at www.projectyano.org/educationnotarms). There were also radio interviews done in Spanish, and Univisión (Channel 17) did two extensive television reports, one airing on “Primer Impacto,” an international documentary/news program.
As the school year drew to an end, the deceptive voices of JROTC instructors and administrators were at least temporarily silenced when an official gag order was announced by the school district. Too many reporters and too many allegations were getting too close for comfort. An investigation, begrudgingly ordered by the district, is now looking into the claims of involuntary JROTC enrollment and into the behavior of Cheryl Seelos. It is unknown whether anything will come of this or if the district is just hoping that things will die down. Whether the new superintendent, Dr. Terry Grier, will make a difference is another intriguing question: he has twice stated in public that he opposes gun ranges in schools.
Since its formation in October 2007, the Education Not Arms Coalition has made great progress on these issues. Watch for the battle to continue when the new school year begins in September.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)