Friday, May 2, 2008 | Sixteen year old Anay Barajas was startled to see the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps on her schedule at Mission Bay High School. She hadn’t asked for the class, she said, and didn’t know much about it. Two weeks into the military-sponsored class, Barajas decided to transfer out. She pestered her counselor, and left after another week.
Next semester the class reappeared on her schedule, she said. Barajas said she persisted with her counselor, enlisted her parents for help, and was removed from the class again, this time after two weeks.
“Why would you put me there again?” Barajas said. “It’s like they do it a second time to see if it works.”
Scheduling surprises aren’t out of the ordinary for San Diego Unified students. Teens shut out of their desired class may find themselves enrolled in an unwanted course, from cabinet making to art to keyboarding. If they dislike it, they can request a transfer.
But when that unwanted elective is Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, a storied and controversial class linked to the military, the dilemma takes on another dimension. And in San Diego Unified schools, that predicament has spilled into heated protests before the school board, ugly accusations of tracking students into the military and tense exchanges between one embattled principal and protesting teens.
State law prohibits schools from requiring students to take a military class such as JROTC. Nationwide, such classes are taught by retired or active servicemembers and are jointly sponsored by schools and the military, which pays for books, uniforms, rifles, technology and a portion of instructor salaries. Meant to instill leadership, citizenship and self esteem, the classes span topics from stress management to first aid to military customs. Some also teach marksmanship during class or after school, using air rifles in controlled ranges.