MOUNT VERNON — Due to a glitch in state law, more than 60 Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps Junior ROTC units could be eliminated in Ohio, including the ones at Highland High School and the Knox County Career Center.
Ohio CORE legislation, passed by the 126th General Assembly and signed into law on Jan. 3, 2007, established a “rigorous high school curriculum” designed to prepare all students for the global work force and/or higher education. The CORE specifies which courses a student must take before high school graduation, even detailing the subject area of five required elective classes. The statute specifies the electives must be selected from “foreign language, fine arts, business, career-technical education, family and consumer sciences, technology, agricultural education, or English language arts, mathematics, science, or social studies courses not otherwise required.”
The Ohio Department of Education has interpreted the law to mean that, beginning with students who are freshmen after July 1, 2010, military science (JROTC) may not be used to meet the five units of elective credits required for graduation.
If the situation is not corrected, Ohio would become the only state not to grant credit for a JROTC program. That means schools would lose a program — which is lauded and funded by Congress — that brings hundreds of thousands of dollars into school districts across the state.
Highland High School has 62 cadets in its Navy JROTC program.
“It does not make any sense to me why they would not give credit for a program that gives kids some leadership opportunities, self-discipline and good citizenship training,” said Cmdr. John Sachleben. “In the end, as usual, the kids would be the ones losing out. The kids always pay the price when adults mess with things that seem to be working just fine.”
One of the missions of JROTC is to build citizens of character. Retired Lt. Col. Christopher Salvucci, who is in charge of the 84 students in the Knox County Career Center’s Air Force JROTC program, said, “Single-family homes are a fact of life and those parents are doing the best with what they have. While sports and entertainment icons seem to be letting us down on a regular basis, why would we want to take away the role models [ROTC instructors] that have been hand-picked and placed in our schools in large part to be role models for our teens?
“While our political and business leaders struggle with a loss of public confidence caused by scandal and corruption, one organization, the U.S. military, has maintained its credibility with the American people. The American people support the U.S. military and the principles of loyalty, honor and discipline guiding them. Is now the time to make those individuals less visible in our society, or more visible?”
One of the goals of the Ohio Department of Education is to develop a process to prepare students to compete and collaborate with students and workers across the international landscape. Salvucci said he wonders where the necessary global experience and knowledge will come from if JROTC is eliminated.
“Who knows better the cultures, governments and people of the world than the military men and women who have traveled extensively throughout the world, whose careers have been spent in service, not just to the United States, but in defense of the principles of freedom around the world?” he asked.
Students currently enrolled in JROTC are not affected by the new rules.
“Kids who are currently in the program and graduating before 2014 will continue to get credit as long as their local requirements are met,” said Scott Blake, spokesman for the ODE. “They are still under the existing graduation requirements. The issue comes about when you look at the classes that have to fulfill the graduation requirements of Ohio CORE, which starts with the class of 2014.
“Since JROTC is not listed in [Ohio CORE],” Blake continued, “it’s been basically concluded it wouldn’t qualify as an elective under those guidelines. Some districts are already making preparations for CORE and in some cases are scaling back [JROTC] in anticipation of it not meeting graduation requirements in the future.”
The Ohio Department of Education helped develop the CORE, Blake said, but did not intentionally exclude JROTC from the legislation.
“It wasn’t an intentional oversight, it was just an oversight,” he explained. “It’s one of those things that unless you are really involved in all the programs, it’s hard to know everything that’s out there [in more than 600 school districts] and to know everything that you might want to, or should, include in that list.”
Blake said it is his understanding that the only remedy is new legislation adding JROTC programs to the list.
“There’s nothing that we [at ODE] can do the way things are structured right now,” he said. “When we have received inquiries from legislators about this, the suggestion we have made is that language be drafted that JROTC programs be added to the list of electives.”
Legislators are taking steps to correct the oversight. Patrice Davis, aide to Rep. Clayton Luckie, said a bill is being drafted, but has not yet been introduced in the House. Davis said she anticipates the bill will be introduced in the very near future.