Dekalb Citizens Speak Out Against Marine School


(APN) DECATUR — DeKalb citizens spoke out Monday, April 13, 2009, during the public comment session at the DeKalb County Board of Education meeting against the DeKalb Marine Corps Institute, a new magnet school scheduled to open in August. The military-style public high school would be the first of its kind in Georgia.

They attacked the proposal on both substantive and procedural grounds.

“I am opposed to the increasing militarization of our schools,” Linda McPherson of Grandmothers for Peace said.

“We do not need a pipeline directly into the military,” Grace Hawkins, another Grandmother for Peace, said.

Several speakers pointed to the lack of public notification regarding the school until after the decision had already been made.

“As a former Army intelligence officer, I must congratulate the Board. I have never seen a better stealth operation,” Michael Burke, a Vietnam veteran, said. “13-year-olds do not belong in a class with Marines.”

Several speakers pounced on a central contradiction in the official BoE rationale for the Marine partnership. As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, some officials have claimed the Marine presence is supposed to help with “discipline problems.” However, the new school will be a math and science magnet school, open only to students who have mastered algebra, hardly students who would be expected to have disciplinary problems.

“This school is going to take the best kids,” Hawkins said. “Not problem children.”

Sven Lovegren, a Vietnam vet and former member of ROTC, said he had served as a substitute teacher and agreed that DeKalb schools do have a discipline problem. However, he believes a military presence was not the way to solve it.

“The military already has access to high-school students through No Child Left Behind,” Lovegren said. He called for a public hearing and a one-year postponement of the school.

John Evans, founder of Operation LEAD and a frequent thorn in the side of public officials, asked if the Board had not violated the policies of its accrediting organization by staffing the school before holding public hearings.

The new DeKalb school is based on a model pioneered in Chicago by Arne Duncan, who is now the US Secretary of Education.

However, Hawkins said the results from Chicago were “not encouraging.”

Tim Franzen of the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition brought pamphlets indicating the Chicago schools with military connections had lower test scores and lower graduation rates than average for Illinois schools.

All of the speakers opposed to the school received hearty applause from the audience members, the majority of whom were Black. There was standing-room only.

As previously reported by APN (March 31, 2009), the BoE approved the school in February 2009 and has already hired a Marine commandant to handle issues not related to academics.

Two speakers spoke in favor of the school as an “innovative concept,” but directed the bulk of their remarks to opposing its location at the Heritage Center, which has been mentioned as a possible site. They said the Center was too small, had inadequate parking, was not designed for high-volume traffic, and putting the school there would jeopardize a neighborhood park.

The remainder of the 20 allowed speakers spoke on a variety of other topics, mostly involving individual schools.

A brief mini-drama occurred while Hawkins was speaking. The security guard, a large armed man, walked from the front of the room to the door where Franzen was handing out pamphlets. Although other speakers, including one of those in favor of the Marine school, had distributed their literature in the room, the guard told Franzen he could not distribute his.

“I told him I was going to give them out anyway, and if he wanted to stop me he would have to drag me out,” Franzen said. “After I gave away the last one, I asked him if he was going to drag me out. He stood there about 30 seconds and then walked away.”

During the break, this reporter questioned both the security guard and a Board member about the apparent the double standard on literature distribution. The Board member agreed that the same policies should apply to all and offered his apologies.

Also, Judy Conder, videographer with Artemis Productions, was denied access to videotape the proceedings due to what the BoE described as “expectations of privacy.”

“They said that by law they are required to document the meetings for the public,” Conder said. “They do that by broadcasting the meeting live on TV and placing it on a secure server. Having done that, they [claim they] have the right to deny any further videotaping.”

APN is concerned about possible violations of the Georgia Open Meetings law by the Dekalb BoE and will be reviewing the matter further.

About the author:

Bob Goodman is a Special Contibuter and blogger for The Atlanta Progressive News. He is also a member of the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition and a former writer for the Great Speckled Bird newspaper. He is reachable at

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