Community Applauds DeKalb’s Delay of Marine School

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(APN) ATLANTA — A coalition of anti-war activists, students, and parents on Monday, June 01, 2009, applauded the DeKalb County Board of Education for delaying its plans to open the DeKalb Marine Corps Institute.

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Photograph by Jonathan Springston

Last week, the Board issued a brief statement saying, “there has been a change to our plan of launching the first of its kind DeKalb County Marine Academy Institute this fall.”

“An initiative of this magnitude requires a significant commitment from all entities involved,” the statement reads. “As a public educational institution, it is our responsibility to ensure that all partnerships meet the policies by which we are governed. While we are excited about the opportunity to partner with the Marine Corps, it is not feasible for either party to move further at this time. We will continue our discussions in hope of reaching a mutual agreement that is in the best interest of both institutions.”

Dr. Crawford Lewis, Superintendent of DeKalb schools, said Monday before the start of the Board’s meeting that negotiations between the school system and the Marines had hit a roadblock.

“The Memorandum Of Agreement, which has been developed by both the school system attorneys as well as the attorneys from the Marine Corps [and] identifies the responsibilities of each party, has not been signed at this time by the Marine Corps,” Lewis said. “This agreement is crucial to both parties and ensures that all variables are agreed upon and all expectations by both parties are confirmed.”

Lewis said the two parties “will continue to communicate” in “hopes of finalizing an agreement.”

“If accomplished, the school system will move forward with plans to open the school in August of 2010,” Lewis said. “There is no confirmation, however, that DeKalb County School System will in fact do so.”

The Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition (GPJC) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) held a press conference Monday before the Board Meeting to celebrate the decision with cautious optimism.

“Our work is not done yet. We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Tim Franzen of the AFSC said. “We don’t want a DeKalb Marine Corps Institute this year and we don’t want one next year or ever.”

While Lewis did not acknowledge it, Franzen told APN he believes outside pressure from activists and parents opposed to the idea led to the Board’s decision.

“The Board of Education is under pressure,” Franzen said. “It’s turned into a controversial school. The Marines are under some pressure too.”

The proposed school would have been the first of its kind in Georgia. DeKalb officials insisted the school is a choice for parents and students, who would have no commitment to enlist with any branch of the armed services after graduation.

Opponents said the school would have been a holding pen for students with discipline problems and a glorified recruiting tool for the military.

A principal, who would handle academic issues, and a Marine commandant, who would handle issues outside of academics, would run the school.

Students, dressed in Marine ROTC uniforms, would focus heavily on math and science. In the first year, the school would teach 150 ninth grade cadets with tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders joining in subsequent years to swell the population to 650.

Activists said money allocated for a Marine school would be best spent elsewhere. Gloria Tatum of Grandmothers For Peace suggested using such funds for “a peace institute, a health institute, or a green institute… something that uplifts society.”

Grace Hawkins, another member of Grandmothers For Peace, told the Board she is “implacably opposed… to any kind of militarization of our schools.”

“To your credit, you realized the people of DeKalb were going to be on the hook for this school and you were going to be hard pressed to get the Marines to live up to its share of the cost,” Hawkins said.

“I think it’s pathetic what the Board is doing here,” Balewa Alimayu, a Vietnam veteran, said of the proposed school. “There must be alternatives.”

There is “no justification” for the Marine school, John Zientowski, another Vietnam veteran, said. “Why are you so eager to expose our children to the military?”

Franzen presented the Board with a Human Rights Resolution, crafted with help from the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, opposing the school.

“Therefore, Be It Resolved, that the DeKalb County Board of Education cease all current and future plans to establish the DeKalb County Marine Corps Institute or any other educational institutions administered or financed in part by any diversion of the United States Armed Forces,” the resolution concluded.

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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