Debra J. Saunders

When the San Francisco school board voted last month to restore the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, it seemed that sanity had prevailed -- three years after the board voted to kill the popular program. Finally, the board had put students' welfare ahead of its ruthless political correctness.

Wrong. Unless the school board votes to recognize that JROTC fulfills students' high school physical education requirements at Tuesday's board meeting, the board's vote to keep JROTC could be viewed as a conniving stunt and a cruel hoax.

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If students cannot get PE credit -- as they could before the board yanked it in 2007, as a follow-up to its 2006 vote to phase out the program -- many students will not be able to fit it into their schedules. Enrollment in "RO" -- as the kids call the program -- will continue to drop. It has fallen from 1,600 students in 2006 to 500 students this year. Folks outside the Bay Area no doubt look at this story and see proof that San Francisco is America's premier military-bashing city. For good reason, too: When they pushed the measure, former school board members Dan Kelly and Mark Sanchez wrote against "the prominent presence of uniformed cadet units" and a curriculum that relies "upon memorization and rote repetition rather than critical thinking." To them, it seems, JROTC was gym for dummies.

While other city's leaders recognize the immense sacrifices made by U.S. troops, the Special City's pols fixate on the military's "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy.

Stereotypes aside, however, the real story here is about San Franciscans' underdog fight to save JROTC from an authoritarian school board.

After the board voted to phase out RO, outraged parents, instructors and students mobilized. They showed up at meeting after meeting to try to shame the school board into allowing students to make their own choices. Board members who terminated the program either lost re-election or won higher office. The new board just wanted the issue to go away, but JROTC boosters wouldn't roll over and die.

They hit back against the RO foes' bogus arguments. Gay RO students came forward to debunk claims that the program discriminated against homosexual students. Parents pointed out that RO students were more likely to grow up to be college students than future military recruits. Opponents charged that RO was a white man's pursuit; Lincoln High School JROTC instructor Robert Powell appeared at meetings to show that eight instructors of SFUSD's 12 JROTC are black -- no offense to white instructors intended.

Debra J. Saunders

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