In February of 2009, Mission Bay High School students, parents, teachers, and community members waited anxiously and well into a Tuesday night for the decision by the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) Board to finally restrict the JROTC program. It did so by passing a policy banning JROTC rifle ranges and marksmanship training in the district.
Before that night, students had proven that JROTC programs across the district were leading students to falsely believe that the program would grant them credit that could be counted toward college acceptance. In addition, it was documented that students were sometimes being placed into JROTC without their or their parents’ consent, violating California Education Code section 51750. These complaints were addressed without school board action in 2008 when the superintendent issued a directive banning both practices.
The Education Not Arms Coalition (ENAC), a group consisting of students, teachers and several community organizations, made these victories possible. It’s an achievement that is significant for taking place in one of the country’s most militarized cities. Since the restrictions were approved, they appear to be having a direct impact on at least one school, Mission Bay High, where JROTC is entering its fifth year with shrinking enrollment numbers.
However, students, parents, and other activists fear that the restrictions won in late 2008 may be violated by those who are desperate to increase JROTC enrollment. Department of Defense guidelines state that when enrollment in a JROTC unit drops below a specified minimum during its second year (third if it’s a new unit), it must be placed on probation. If under-enrollment continues the next year, the unit is required to be disestablished at the end of the school year.
The DoD defines minimum enrollment as the smaller of either 100 students or ten percent of the student population at the school. Mission Bay High School’s Marine Corps JROTC reached under-enrollment with only 87 cadets in the 2009-2010 school year, well below the 100 minimum. In the 2010-2011 school year, the fourth year of the program, Mission Bay’s MCJROTC enrollment dropped to 58 cadets. Despite the low-enrollment of the program, it was never placed on probation or disestablished, as it should have been.
This fall the MCJROTC program at Mission Bay is starting its fifth year. There have been several confirmations by students that the program continues to have a low enrollment. Not only does this situation clearly violate DoD mandates and federal law, it also negatively affects students in other ways.
The school district is in an economic crisis and must decide what programs or resources to cut from its budget. In order for JROTC to be present, the DoD dictates that at least two instructors must be employed — even when the total program enrollment is only 58 cadets. The two JROTC instructors are given full teacher benefits. This means that it costs much more to maintain this nonacademic elective with low enrollment than it does for an academic core class or elective with full enrollment. Even with the partial federal subsidy that the school receives for JROTC, it is still more expensive for the school district to offer.
In the summer of 2009, SDUSD passed a resolution changing the high school graduation requirements to include all A-G courses (a set of core academic classes that meet eligibility requirements for California’s two public university systems). It simultaneously pledged to make these classes available to all high school students in the district even during these tough economic times. Recently, Leslye Martínez — a Mission Bay High School senior -- stated that a section of the International Baccalaureate English program closed down at Mission Bay due to the budget shortfall. Meanwhile, the nonacademic JROTC program continues to operate with under-enrollment.
Several other Mission Bay students have reported that there have been aggressive attempts to recruit students into JROTC to help the program reach the required minimum enrollment. They say that JROTC instructors visit their physical education classes to talk students into joining. Other Mission Bay students report that at least one recruiting event was held this summer at the school.
This is what has been reported at Mission Bay High School, but what about other schools in the district? ENAC fears that the state law against mandatory military classes is being violated at many campuses by placing students into JROTC without their or their parent’s consent, just to meet the enrollment minimum.
In response to the recruiting actions taken by JROTC at Mission Bay and the principal’s choice to continue the program, students involved with ENAC, MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlán), and community supporters have waged a leafleting campaign at the school. Students circulated fliers that explain the rights that students have if they are placed into JROTC without their consent, and encouraging them to watch for such situations among their friends. The students continue to organize and look for ways to change their school and district.
The situation is clear for students who are asking for the disestablishment of the Marine Corps JROTC program at Mission Bay High School. Apart from the legal reasons for disestablishment, to them it is not logical to keep a nonacademic course that is under-enrolled while their education is affected by cuts in academic classes. The fact that privilege is given to the MCJROTC program sends a message to the low-income students at Mission Bay who are historically underrepresented in college: higher education for all is not a priority. Mission Bay High School (a school with a predominantly working-class student population) keeps most students at an academic disadvantage when it makes such decisions, compared to more affluent schools such as La Jolla High School, which does not have a JROTC program. There are many other high schools in SDUSD with situations similar to Mission Bay, which perpetuates the inequalities that working-class students and communities of color face.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/)