Friday, June 6, 2008

Weapons in schools?

The Education Not Arms Coalition consisting of students, parents and concerned community members continues its challenge of the JROTC programs in San Diego area high schools. A June 4 article from the San Diego Reader, A cool elective you can't get out of, explains the concerns of the coalition:
"The Education Not Arms Coalition has rallied behind three points in its opposition to the military science program.

The coalition's first concern is marksmanship training on public school grounds. Each JROTC program represents a branch of the armed forces. In San Diego Unified schools, 7 of the 13 programs are Army, 3 are Navy, 2 are Air Force, and 1 is Marines. Every program has a rifle range except for the two Air Force programs, at Scripps Ranch High and Mira Mesa High (at Crawford the range is not in use). The rifle ranges typically are in an old classroom where students, supervised by instructors, practice shooting .17-caliber air rifles at targets. Jack Brandais of the district's Media Relations Department explains, “This is a controlled, very specific type of program. At one time it was a CIF [California Interscholastic Federation] sport. It's still an NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] sport and an Olympic sport, so it's taught under very tight control, in tight conditions, in a specific area of the campuses.”

Lincoln High School's Ochoa says his students questioned the mixed message the school was sending. “We teach our kids to think critically,” Ochoa says, “so as soon as my kids became conscious about a gun range on campus and other students being trained to shoot weapons, they started asking questions about the zero-tolerance policy. Since day one at this school, they've been told about there being no exception to having any weapons on campus, so they started making petitions and getting signatures from other students and staff members.”

Cristabel A., who graduated from San Diego High last year, was a member of the school's Army JROTC marksmanship team. In 2007, the team won the California Junior Olympics. She recalls the experience of being on a shooting team. “For one thing, it is the one sport that needs the most teamwork,” she says. “It takes a team to win. It helps with concentration, good health, and dedication. It teaches a group of people how to be a team. Through that, the team becomes family, like my team did.”

The second concern of the Education Not Arms Coalition is that students are being placed in JROTC who have not chosen it as an elective. Once they are enrolled, it is difficult for them to transfer out. The allegations come despite a districtwide policy requiring that parents provide written consent to their child's enrollment in the class. The instructors pass out the consent forms at the beginning of the term. However, the program's own manager, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Janus, has reported missing forms at some schools.

Barajas, the Mission Bay High student, is aware of several classmates who had a difficult time transferring out of the class. “During the few weeks that I was in the class, some kids signed up because they thought it was going to be an easy class,” she says, “and there were others who were just placed in it without them knowing what it was. Another boy said that he was in there even though he didn't want to be, so he told the instructor, and the instructor just told him that he was going to have to figure it out.”

However, according to Brandais, the district's media representative, the school district has not received any formal complaints concerning students in the program who do not want to be there. “We require all of our students to return a consent form for the class,” he says. “Our assistant superintendent has never received an appeal call from a parent about their child in Junior ROTC. Now, if the parent wants their child to be in the program, but the student doesn't want to be there, then that's a matter the student must resolve with the parent.”

Jorge Mariscal, professor of literature at UCSD and a Vietnam War veteran, feels that it is a common occurrence for students who have not chosen the elective to be placed in the class. “The most troubling development in some Los Angeles and San Diego schools is the placement of students in JROTC programs without student or parent consent,” he says. “This is an infringement on students' rights, and any school official that condones this practice should be reprimanded.”

The coalition's final objection to the military science program stems from allegations that JROTC instructors are recruiting cadets by stating that the course meets college eligibility requirements. Jahnkow, of Project YANO, says, “Even those who choose to go into the program are often doing it based on misinformation given to them to hype the program and make them believe that it provides benefits it really doesn't. Specifically, students have been told this will help them qualify for college, when, in fact, the credits that students get for this elective aren't even counted by colleges, and the grades aren't even counted for eligibility for financial aid.”'
The entire article, along with other news and information about the coalition, can be found at the Project YANO website
photo above by Rick Jahnkow of Project YANO

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