Help save valuable youth program

Paul Kozakiewicz

Some good, civic-minded citizens are working hard to send the SF School Board a pointed message: Don't use our kids for political purposes.

The School Board voted in 2006 to eliminate the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) from the city's high schools within two years. Because a suitable replacement for the program could not be found, the deadline was extended one year.

Volunteers have until July 7 to get 10,000 signatures from registered city voters to qualify a measure to save JROTC on the November ballot.

The popular JROTC program has up to 1,600 students participating during the school year. It helps them, the vast majority of whom are Chinese-Americans, gain self respect and the confidence to become leaders in our military, and our society at large.

About 2 percent of them will go into the military, becoming the lieutenants, captains and other officers that will make life-and-death decisions for the bulk of the armed forces, enlisted men and women on the front lines defending our country at home and abroad. The other 98 percent learn life skills that will serve them well as they move forward with their careers.

The School Board in 2006, led by Green Party members Mark Sanchez and Sara Lipset, and joined by Dan Kelly and uber-lefty Eric Mar, voted to end the program to take a stand against the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. (The measure would have died in committee, as all bad rules and laws are supposed to, if School Board member Norman Yee didn't vote for it.)

Then, on June 17 of this year, less than a week after school ended for the summer break, the School Board tried to pass a measure that would have eliminated physical education credits for students in JROTC. The sneaky measure, which only had a 24-hour advance notice, failed on a 3-3 vote when the measure's co-sponsor, Jane Kim, missed the meeting. Mar, Sanchez and Norman voted to eliminate the credit while Jill Wynns, Hydra Mendoza and Kim-Shree Maufas had the common sense to reject their colleagues sleazy maneuvering to gut the last year of the JROTC program.

But, on June 26, the School Board called for another hearing of the same issue. This time, the school board succeeded in eliminating the credit for JROTC classes in the upcoming school year.

With the passage of the School Board's cowardly vote, many students might not be able to afford the extra time required to take an elective course and attendance in the program will suffer. These School Board members tried to eviscerate the program with as little notice as possible in the first available days of the summer break, when students are away from school enjoying their vacations. A fine democratic example these School Board members set for our youth.

Those in favor of eliminating the P.E. credit say the JROTC program isn't up to snuff because a certified instructor is not teaching and a lawsuit might possibly be filed sometime in the future by Public Advocates. I think JROTC physical education requirements can be modified a little if need be to bring the program up to statewide standards.

These School Board members are willing to sell out the Chinese community, the military community and all of the students in the SF Unified School District to make a little point for their perception of forwarding the gay rights movement. And one of them, Mar, thinks he's going to be the next supervisor representing the Richmond District. Sanchez is also running for city supervisor. Give me a break!

Now, the anti-military zealots on the School Board are getting heat from gay veterans.

On June 19, at Alexander Hamilton Post 448, a San Francisco lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) veterans' group comprised of honorably-discharged veterans, announced its full support for the San Francisco JROTC program.

"It has become necessary for our group to publicly support the JROTC program because we feel the information put out by the School Board regarding discrimination against the LGBT community is misleading and blatantly untrue," the group's press release said.

"The truth is, the San Francisco JROTC program does not discriminate based on gender, race or sexual orientation. For the School Board to use our LGBT community and the challenges we have faced, in civilian life and in service to our country, to further their political agenda is unconscionable. The School Board's fight against the JROTC is one of politics from which the students and their families will be the ones paying the price," the veteran's group said.

In the Richmond District, we have the Veteran's Affairs hospital and medical center at 42nd Avenue and Clement Street. Thousands of veterans who have honorably served our country are being treated there from numerous conflicts, including the current war in Iraq.

The vote to end the 90-year-old JROTC program does a disservice to all of those who have been injured or died serving in our nation's armed forces.

I hope the fine San Franciscans working with the groups Friends of JROTC and Choice for Students succeed in putting this issue on the November ballot. Although the measure is only advisory, it is a message that needs to go out clear and loud:

• Don't discriminate against students, primarily Chinese students, by eliminating a program that has shown immense success helping them overcome shyness and the fear of social interaction, while gaining confidence and knowledge to develop into community leaders. The JROTC is not a replaceable program. Proposing ethnic studies as a replacement is a joke.

• Don't mock the men and women who serve, or have served, our country in the armed services. These warriors protect the freedoms we hold dear, and have done so since the Revolutionary War.

• Don't use our children as leverage to make your narrow, small-minded points opposing U.S. government military policy.

Please sign a petition to get the JROTC measure on the Nov. 4 ballot. Then we can vote to send a clear message to the School Board - restore the JROTC program to our high schools.

Paul Kozakiewicz is the editor of the Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon newspapers.