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When my son enrolled at the local high school he learned that JROTC had been placed on his schedule. He had not asked to join the program. The school is making it hard for him to get out. Can a school force a student to join JROTC?

The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) is supposed to be an elective - JROTC materials make this point. However, a growing number of schools are forcing students to join or stay in the program against their wishes.

Schools with JROTC units are under pressure to keep enrollment high. Federal law states that a JROTC program must have a minimum of 100 students or 10% of the student body, whichever is less, in order to keep a unit. Hence the high pressure tactics of schools administrators. In addition, some administrators track students into the program as an alternative to academic classes or because they believe in military-style discipline.

In recent years a growing number of schools have instituted a policy of automatically enrolling entering students in JROTC. In these schools students are supposed to be given an option to get out upon request. In practice, schools have placed obstacles in the way, often insisting that a student complete the semester or year before being let out or being told that there is no other course available during that time slot. Even schools that have not made enrollment mandatory have placed obstacles in the way of students who wish to get out.

We are aware of a successful effort challenging the mandatory enrollment policy. Three years ago, parents in Decatur, Georgia, with the help of the local American Civil Liberties Union, were successful in convincing the district to withdraw the mandatory enrollment policy.

Successfully challenging this practice is possible. We suggest putting your request in writing to the principal, guidance counselor, and to central office staff in the school district (including the superintendent). Try to get the support of a local group, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization working on students’ rights, or a parent group. The keys to getting your son out are to put your concerns in writing, get support from others, and be persistent. Junior ROTC is not a state education requirement.

Finally, it should be noted that JROTC is not the only military-run program students are being forced to endure. Some schools have improperly forced students to take military-sponsored tests that are used for recruitment purposes.

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