From the Union Tribune (quotes from students, activists and parents are at the end of the piece):
SAN DIEGO – Critics of war and the military yesterday denounced a proposed Marine Corps Junior ROTC program for Mission Bay High School as a recruitment tool aimed at low-income minority students. Some parents and school officials touted it as a leadership development program.
The Marine Corps Junior ROTC would be the only one in the San Diego Unified School District, the state’s second largest. The district has 11 other Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps affiliated with the Navy, the Air Force and Army.
A school board majority indicated yesterday that it would support the program, which requires $65,500 in district funding. Marine Corps Junior ROTC headquarters in Quantico, Va., has committed $125,000 to defray start-up costs, such as uniforms and supplies.
A final vote on district funding for the program won’t take place until next month. Trustee John De Beck said he wouldn’t support the program, saying the 2007-08 budget, which tentatively included funding for Junior ROTC, was developed without sufficient community input.
Supporters, including Mission Bay High Principal Cheryl Seelos, said the program would help at-risk teenagers and others develop discipline, pride and good citizenship. Cadets wear uniforms, participate in community service projects and go on field trips to military installations. Some get involved in drill teams and color guards.
About 83 percent of Mission Bay High students are bused from other parts of the city, and minorities constitute most of the student body. Many of those students are struggling academically. Seelos said attendance and suspensions have been a problem.
The school in Pacific Beach, which is near military housing developments, would launch the program in September. Parents and about 95 students have expressed interest.
Pat Hom said her son would like to join Junior ROTC because he “wishes to serve his country” and would like to become a police officer.
“There is a strong military presence there,” she said. “Students wish to have access to that program.”
Stephanie Jennings presented the board with a packet of letters from teachers, students and others in opposition. She warned that if the Junior ROTC were implemented, protests would happen outside the school.
Jennings is an activist with the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice, an anti-war group, and with The Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities. The project says its mission is to provide young people with “an alternative view about military enlistment.”
“Every student has a right to education and should not be tracked into a war zone,” said Jennings, who asserted that schools with large minority, low-income student populations tend to be targeted for military recruitment.
Nancy Cruz, who will be a senior at Mission Bay High, said the money would be better spent on programs to help students get to college.
“I think our school is already exposed to a lot of military recruitment,” she said. “We have military recruiters there on a daily basis, at lunch.”
The school board last month tentatively included money for the Mission Bay program in the budget with the understanding that there would be further discussions. The program was one of several items trustees had pulled for scrutiny because they felt there had not been enough discussion.