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SD Unified Says ‘No’ To JROTC Rifle Training

A group of San Diego teenagers successfully convinced the San Diego Unified school board yesterday to dismantle the district's Junior ROTC air-rifle program. The on-campus program has been training young cadets how to shoot for decades. KPBS Reporter Ana Tintocalis has more.

The district's Junior ROTC air-rifle marksmanship program has a long and distinguished history in the San Diego Unified District.But now the program has been shot down. That's the result of a one-year, student-driven effort.

The program first came under fire last year when JROTC officials introduced air-rifle shooting ranges on the campuses of Lincoln and Mission Bay high schools.

Students, teachers and parents were outraged. Many didn't realize on-campus shooting practice even existed in the district.

Jonathon Flores is a student at Lincoln High. He urged the school board to dismantle the program because it sends the wrong message. That message is especially relevant in his South San Diego community, where gun violence killed two classmates this year.

Flores: The Lincoln High community has been devastated by the amount of violent shootings that have taken place in the community. Should we sit here and wait until another incident occurs in order for us to take action? As a student, I expect this school board will make it a priority to understand that our books are the ultimate weapon to succeed, not guns.

The Air-Rifle program is an after-school sports activity. Students travel across the country to compete in tournaments. Some even get scholarships.

JROTC cadets, their mothers and military veterans did their best to explain why the marksmanship program is so important to them and their campuses.

Mark Mendoza is a marksmanship coach. He says shooting teachers discipline, patience and respect.

Mendoza: I can vouch that JROTC doesn't teach anything related to tactical warfare, combat, or even self-defense. There's likely more violence occuring at fencing or wrestling practice at the gym. In fact JROTC cadets are more peaceful than their fellow students.

Seventeen-year-old Irving Mota goes to Lincoln High School. He says if the school board bans rifle training, they should also eliminate other sports.

Mota: A helmet for a football team, something that the campus allows us to carry around, that can be a weapon. A lacrosse stick, that can be a weapon. A skateboard, that as long as you're not riding but can carry it around, that can be a weapon too. Should we ban those things too?

But in the end, the school board voted 3-2 to dismantle the program. School trustee Richard Barrera applauds students on both sides of the issue for their activism, but says banning any type of gun on campus is the right thing to do.

Barrera: The students here are standing up for something bigger than just individual programs that are going on in our schools. You're standing up and saying enough, that you're not going to sit by and simply allow a society that produces that level of violence as it does. You're not going to do it.

Jonathon Flores is a senior at Lincoln High. And he says the vote is a huge win for his community. 

Flores: There are things you can change in the community. There are policies that you would never thought you could change, I've actually done it. Now that I've done it, I feel that motivation to do more.

JROTC leadership classes will remain in the district, but the on-campus rifle training is now gone. In doing so, San Diego Unified follows in the footsteps of the San Francisco and Chicago public school districts which banned the program several years ago.

Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.


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