Debra J. Saunders

They lobbied City Hall. They drew state lawmakers into their camp. When the board still refused to give the public the RO option, supporters spent their weekends gathering the thousands of signatures needed to put an advisory measure supporting JROTC on the San Francisco ballot. They succeeded. Last year, that measure passed with 53.5 percent of the vote.

"It is like John Stuart Mill wrote a hundred years ago. The challenge of ideas often leads to the strengthening in institutions," JROTC supporter Michael Bernick, an attorney who headed the Employment Development Department under Gov. Gray Davis, told me. Not that Bernick would want to go through this fight again, but "the fact that the teachers, the students, the parents, the community, all had to come together to save it has made it a stronger and probably a better program."

The board responded. New member Rachel Norton supported JROTC. The RO students' message always did resonate with member Jill Wynns, who argued in 2006 that the board should not take out its disapproval of "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" on Ess Eff students. On May 12, two other board members joined Norton and Wynns to restore the program.

JROTC supporters had won -- until later that night when the board voted to send pink slips to all the instructors -- although the board can reinstate the jobs later. As RO supporter Christopher L. Bowman put it, "Effectively what they did was on May 12, they voted to reinstate the program, then later they voted to eliminate the program's staff by eliminating every one."

Then there's the unresolved PE-credit issue. (Hope you like acronyms, because this is about the SFUSD JROTC PE ploy.) Tuesday, the board will vote on a measure to allow RO students to get their gym credits through independent study -- but that's onerous and unnecessary. The California Board of Education said local districts have the authority to offer PE credits for JROTC.

I urge readers to watch the video archive of the May 12 school board meeting on On the anti-side, you'll see some students, but mostly a bunch of aged hippies, who think we're still in Vietnam, railing against military atrocities. On the RO side, you'll see some parents and educators, but mostly kids, who aren't talking about themselves but something larger than themselves.

Students who are on the academic sweet track and those whose kids who are not yet there marvel at a program that taught them how to present themselves, ways to help others (first aid) -- and how to become leaders. They are confident young adults.

Unless the board quickly makes up for its folly, there will be fewer such students graduating San Francisco schools.

Debra J. Saunders

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