Planned Public Military High School Draws Outrage in Dekalb

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(APN) ATLANTA — The DeKalb County School Board is planning to open a military-style public high school in conjunction with the U.S. Marine Corps that would be the first of its kind in Georgia.

But veterans, peace groups, and other anti-war organizations are quickly mounting a campaign against the school, which so far has included writing letters and emails.

“I don’t want to see the military taking over our high schools more than they already have,” Michael Burke, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Georgia Veterans Alliance (GVA), told APN. “These kids are too young to be subjected to the seduction of the Marine Corps.”

“I think this is too much military involvement in our schools,” Sven Lovegren, another Vietnam veteran and member of GVA, said.

“I’m in favor of a broader education to teach our students to be able to look at a number of alternative options in their lives. Bringing the military into their lives is going to restrict those options significantly.”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper (AJC) reported on March 10, 2009, that Dekalb County School Board “is negotiating with the USMC to open a high school that would combine academics with a military-style regimen.”

Parents and activists are livid they were not consulted and that they had to learn about the planned school through a press report.

Dale Davis, public information officer for the DeKalb County School System, told Atlanta Progressive News the school is not a “replacement” for Junior ROTC programs or military academies but “an addition” for parents to consider.

When asked if the school is a military tool to recruit young people, Davis said “that’s not true.”

“It is a choice. It’s a parents’ choice to send their children,” he said.

The Board first approved of the school’s concept in September 2008, according to the AJC. However, the Board officially approved the school in February 2009, Davis said. APN is currently attempting to obtain additional information about the timeline leading up to the school’s approval.

The intended purpose of the marine school on the part of the School Board is unclear; its proponents seem to be confused about whether it is intended to address student misbehavior in Dekalb schools.

Dekalb Board Superintendent, Crawford Lewis, told the AJC, “For the mom who believes her child is capable of going to college but lacks discipline, this is a choice.”

However, Brad Bryant, Board Member of the Georgia Board of Education for the fourth Congressional district, who has pushed for the marine school, wrote, “First, this initiative is not in response to discipline,” in an email dated March 16, 2009, to Gunther Ruckl obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

So what then is the purpose of the school? “The model in Georgia seeks to identify a small number of students who wish to pursue a more rigorous math, science, and technology education at a pace which is more accelerated than their home school,” Bryant wrote.

“There are many other ways to promote science than injecting the military in doing the job,” Ruckl replied. “I am sorry, Dr. Bryant, your explanation does sound a bit disingenuous.”

Board Member Lewis invoked race and class inequalities in his argument as to why the proposed school is not intended as a military recruiting ground, in an email to Michael Burke obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

“Generally speaking, youngsters who sign up for the military are often African Americans who are less educated and who have few options in life,” Lewis wrote.

“These students [on the other hand] in all likelihhod [sic] will attend college or move directly into the workforce. Dekalb County Schools have so many students who do not have parents in the homes. Many of them could benefit from a more disciplined environment,” Lewis wrote.

The DeKalb Marine Corps Institute is set to open in August 2009. The School Board hired a Marine commandant two weeks ago who will handle issues not related to academics. The school will also have a principal, who has yet to be hired, to handle academics.

The school will place an emphasis on math and science. Any student from DeKalb can apply to the school “but admission is dependent upon a student’s mastery of algebra,” the AJC reported March 23, 2009.

Davis told APN students will not be obligated to make any kind of post-graduation military commitment.

Opponents argue DeKalb officials did not adequately bring the public into the process before signing off on the concept.

“I personally object to the way it was handled,” Burke said. “It was snuck around the rear door.”

“This is a totally taxpayer funded thing that has been plunked down in front of us without much public input at all,” Grace Hawkins, member of Atlanta Grandmothers for Peace, said. “That money needs to be allocated completely differently.”

The Marines and DeKalb County will share the costs but Davis did not elaborate on how much the school would cost to run or how much each side would pay.

Davis told APN details like these are currently under negotiation between DeKalb and the Marines. He said the two sides hope to reach a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) “hopefully in the next couple of weeks.”

APN did learn the school will only host ninth grade students during its first year of operation. Over the next three years, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders will join the school, one year at a time, for a total possible capacity of 650 students, Davis said.

The Marine Corps Institute has roots in the Chicago Public School System, formerly headed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The Chicago Marine Institute is one of six schools, each representing one branch of the armed services, and it is a collaboration between the local school district and an armed service branch.

Opponents argue high school students are too young to be considering military service.

“Discipline is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed across all our schools, but I don’t think you need to have the Marines involved,” Lovegren said. “This is early to be hitting them with exposure to the military. Let’s let them experience life a little more before it gets to this point.”

“Their brains are not fully developed and will not be for several years,” Burke said. “It’s a very, very dangerous situation.”

While activists have no official events planned at this time, many groups have already joined together in opposition, including the American Friends Service Committee, Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, National Association for Black Veterans, Peace Network at UUCA, Unitarian Universalist Veterans Alliance, Veterans For Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Vietnam Veterans of America.

“We are going to do every single thing we can to oppose [the school],” Hawkins said. “We are going to be at meetings opposing it. We are going to be on the streets opposing it.”

Burke and others are on a mission to prevent the school from opening.

“I’m outraged because I have five grandchildren,” Burke said. “[My wife and I] just don’t want to go to the happy hunting ground knowing we left this kind of school system in place… We’re all up in arms and we got to draw the line.”

Davis told APN there will be two public forums on the issue next month. The first will occur April 14, 2009, at the Heritage Center on Briarcliff Road and the second will occur April 16, 2009, at Elizabeth Andrews High School on North Druid Hills Road.

“I think it’s healthy to have a good public discussion about it,” Lovegren said. “The more that comes out about it, the more people can decide if this is what they want for public education.”

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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