SAN FRANCISCO — Despite a 72 percent Asian American student enrollment in San Francisco public school’s JROTC program (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp), two Asian American Board members are leading an effort that may end JROTC in the schools system.
“These board members are selling out the community for the sake of personal political gain,” said an angry Bok Pon, commander of Cathay Post 384.
Pon, a veteran and strong advocate of JROTC was referring to Norman Yee, current president of the School Board, and Eric Mar, chair of the Board’s Curriculum Committee. Both Mar and Yee voted against passionate pleas from community leaders and Asian parents to save JROTC. Ironically, the only committee member who voted to save JROTC was Jill Wynns, a non-Asian.
Board president Yee seemed to hedge on his vote in favor of ending JROTC.
“I’m here to do what’s best for the kids,” Yee said. “I voted to move the motion out of the budget committee … [but] I plan to vote against the motion at the full board.”
Yee said at the full board, he plans to offer an amendment, which would allow the Board of Education to begin a two-year study on the matter, looking at JROTC and possible alternatives.
Although Mar did not want to comment for this story, he has told television stations that he is concerned with discrimination against gays in the military, and that “the military in our society should not be involved in schools in a democratic society.”
JROTC, which is offered at most of the public high schools in San Francisco, currently has an enrollment of approximately 1,600 students, 71 percent of whom are Asian American. It is modeled after the U.S. military, i.e., ranked student officers and marching drills, etc., and is in part subsidized by the federal government for $400,000 a year.
Supporters of JROTC acknowledge problems with the U.S. military and gays, but say Mar and Yee are discounting the tremendous benefit JROTC has provided to minorities and low-income students.
“I fully support JROTC,” said San Francisco Supervisor and Assemblywoman elect Fiona Ma, “I think almost all those who are part of it are from low-income and minority homes. JROTC give them an opportunity to learn skills, which will benefit them not only in college, but life.”
Mayor Gavin Newsom has also entered the debate in support of JROTC.
“I’m worried,” said Newsom. “I think the school board is making an ideological judgment and not a practical one if they take this out from under these kids. It’s an important part of their lives.”
“We’re all concerned about military values being forced on our youth,” Newsom added. “But I don’t believe that’s the case with this program. The numbers bear it out.” Students in the JROTC program cite its training benefits, but almost all say they have no intention of joining the military.
The vote has sparked outrage, with some questioning why the Asian American community needs Asian American representatives on the school board when they seem unresponsive to the community’s needs.
“Our community deserves much better representation,” fumed Pon. “I know they represent the entire City, but aren’t Asian Americans one-third of the City” Shouldn’t they at least take into consideration the make-up of school district (half Asian American) and that Asian Americans and people of color make up almost 95 percent of JROTC?”
“If the elimination of JROTC occurs we [Asian Americans] should consider re-calling these so-called Asian Americans board members,” added Pon.
Even Newsom pointed out the importance of this issue to the APA community.
“Disproportionately, it’s going to hurt the Asian community,” said Newsom. “That was very obvious when I looked into it. That’s something I was thoughtful about.”
Ma was diplomatic, but pointed out, “In the future, the Asian American community must thoroughly analyze candidates positions on issues that are important to us before we give them our support.”