RICHMOND -- West Contra Costa schools trustees overrode objections from a group of anti-military activists and concerned residents in voting Wednesday to fund a Junior ROTC program at De Anza High School beginning next fall.
The decision, by a 4-1 vote, includes a mandate to evaluate the program after a year, a requirement made by board member Randy Enos in return for his yes vote.
As they had at the board's last meeting in May, opponents characterized the proposed Air Force ROTC program as a pipeline into military service where students could later be injured or killed in combat.
Other critics described it as a misuse of public education money and school property.
"We don't have the money to provide Common Core textbooks for seventh grade math," said John Irminger, a teacher at Pinole Middle School. "The same values as JROTC instills can be built with other programs, such as Outward Bound."
But several De Anza students, teachers and parents countered those arguments by saying JROTC boosts school spirit, provides much-needed discipline and gives students the opportunity to take on leadership roles.
"There will be more opportunities to be mentally and physically challenged and to serve my school and community," De Anza student Joseph Quintana said. "(It's about) integrity first and service before self, and there's no obligation to join the military."
The board agreed to allocate $100,000 for the program in February without a formal vote at the request of De Anza Principal Bob Evans.
But after opponents voiced objections at the May 28 meeting, trustees agreed to reconsider the decision.
In the meantime, Evans said an instructor had been hired, about 200 students had signed up and others had been placed on a waiting list.
The instructor, retired Air Force officer Tom Freeland, said the program teaches engineering, math, writing, history and critical thinking. He added the course includes social activities and gives students opportunities for leadership.
Freeland said JROTC students nationwide have better than average school attendance and graduation rates and higher grade-point averages.
"We do not require military service and we're not a pipeline into the military," Freeland said.
Board President Charles Ramsey said JROTC at De Anza will cost less than the district's Mock Trial program, for example, while serving more students.
"I don't understand the idea that students and parents at school sites can't make decisions for themselves about what kinds of programs they want," Ramsey said.
Board members Madeline Kronenberg and Todd Groves joined Ramsey and Enos in voting yes. Elaine Merriweather dissented, saying the resources could better be used on anti-violence programs at schools in troubled neighborhoods.
Later, the board held a second mandatory public hearing about how to spend extra state money earmarked for students from low-income families based on the Local Control Funding Formula that will debut next school year.
Speakers advocated for more academic and social support for African-American students and parents and more support for school health clinics.
Assistant Superintendent Nia Rashidchi said the district's Local Control Accountability Plan includes a program of workshops to aid parents in working with teachers and administrators to help their children succeed in school.