Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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Bill would make SF district continue JROTC

A bill that would force the San Francisco Unified School District to continue offering JROTC to school students has been introduced by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance).

The Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps has been the subject of heated debate in the city, and the school board has voted to phase it out by the 2009 school year.

In November, city voters passed Proposition V with 55 percent. That nonbinding measure declares as city policy that students in public high schools have the choice to participate in JROTC.

Opponents' claims include the program violates the city's non-discrimination policy by its hiring practices. Supporters dispute that, and say the program teaches valuable leadership skills.

Ma, who said that five of the seven San Francisco schools that have JROTC are in her district, introduced Assembly Bill 223 on February 4.

Asked if she was telling the school board what to do, Ma said, "As elected officials we are supposed to listen to our voters, and when there are controversial issues in San Francisco, what we do is put it on the ballot to have the voters decide ... and the voters still overwhelmingly supported this program."

Ma explains her decision to go forward with the legislation in this week's Guest Opinion (see page 4).

Because the bill is an urgency statute it will need support from two-thirds of the Legislature to pass. Ma said the bill was her idea.

The bill would make it so that students enrolled in JROTC would be exempted from taking physical education, even though none of the district's JROTC instructors possess PE credentials.

Students have to have two years of PE credit to graduate. In June, the school board voted 4-1, with two absences, to eliminate the provision of the PE credit for JROTC classes offered in 2008-09.

According to the school district, in the 2006-07 school year there were 1,600 students enrolled in the program. Former school board President Mark Sanchez, one of Prop V's main opponents, said last year there were only 500 students.

People opposed to JROTC have said the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gays serving openly affects which instructors are eligible to work in the program. Instructors are retired military officers, but opponents say LGBT officers wouldn't make it that far, at least not if they're out.

And although Prop V passed in November, school board Vice President Jane Kim said, "I don't think 55 percent is a mandate."

Ma's move "really sets bad precedent, to have the state change the state education code to mandate just one district has to institute a program," Kim said.

School board President Kim-Shree Maufas wrote in an e-mail, "I would have hoped that Ms. Ma would focus her policy directive toward state Superintendent Jack O'Connell's office, which could officially sanction P.E. credits for the JROTC course taken by all students in California."

Hilary McLean, O'Connell's communications director, said, "We don't have a position on the bill. We're watching it, but it really is at this point a local issue."

The bill may be heard in committee March 7, according to the state's legislative Web site.

For more information on the bill, go to http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html and search for "223."