inspector general report – Chicago Tribune

Hundreds of Chicago Public Schools freshmen were automatically enrolled in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps classes over the past two school years even though JROTC programs are supposed to be voluntary, according to a report from the CPS inspector general released Wednesday.

The CPS inspector general’s office found that four of the 37 CPS schools with JROTC enrolled all of their freshmen in that program two years in a row, while four other schools enrolled more than 90% of their ninth graders. grade. Students had to be removed from the program if they did not want to participate, a process that “was often inconsistent, poorly communicated or non-existent,” according to the report.

Some directors blamed the automatic enrollment on budget problems, the inspector general’s office said. JROTC may satisfy a physical education requirement for high school graduation. An individual school’s budget is used to pay physical education teachers, while CPS headquarters and the US Department of Defense share the cost of JROTC instructors.

The inspector general’s office released a set of 10 recommendations for schools with JROTC programs, including the creation of a universal parental consent form.

CPS released a statement Wednesday saying it “has already updated policies and procedures related to our JROTC programming, including our enrollment process, public records training, core training related to JROTC program administration, and a new pay scale for instructors.” military”. Those and other reforms scheduled to take effect in the fall “will provide a more transparent and equitable approach to operating our JROTC programs for both students and staff,” the statement said.

CPS has the largest JROTC program in the nation, with an average of one in 14 CPS high school students enrolled in this program during the past three school years, according to the inspector general’s office.

Nearly two-thirds of these cadets were enrolled in one of 37 CPS schools with JROTC, while the rest attended one of six CPS military academies. These academies were excluded from the inspector general’s analysis because all of their students take JROTC as part of the school design.

The inspector general’s office said it interviewed principals, students and parents and surveyed JROTC instructors at the eight schools with the highest JROTC freshman enrollment rates. Seven of the schools are on the south or west sides, and the eighth is on the northwest side, according to the report. Five are neighborhood schools, while three have citywide enrollment.

At least 10% of a CPS school’s students or a minimum of 100 students are supposed to be enrolled in JROTC for the school to maintain its program, the inspector general’s office said. CPS paid nearly $6 million in salaries and benefits to 97 JROTC instructors at its 37 JROTC program schools last school year, according to the inspector general’s office. The district covered 69% of these costs, while the Department of Defense paid the rest.

Cadets are typically required to wear a JROTC uniform once a week, participate in drills and follow their school’s JROTC grooming standards as part of the program, according to the inspector general’s report.

One of the inspector general’s recommendations is that the Chicago Board of Education adopt a policy requiring all neighborhood schools with JROTC programs to also provide all students with a physical education option.

The board adopted a policy in October that says starting in the fall, all schools must provide all elementary and middle school students with “high-quality physical education instruction.” High school students must be scheduled in a physical education course each semester at each grade level. Students enrolled in JROTC are exempt.

The district must make sure neighborhood schools have the staff and funds to offer physical education and JROTC, the inspector general’s office said. The report quoted CPS as saying that “all school budgets support the ability of schools to fund physical education offerings.” Low-enrollment schools can receive support from district equity grants, and principals at schools with JROTC programs can submit requests for additional funding through network chiefs, CPS said in the report.

CPS also told the inspector general’s office that it is offering training to high school principals this week. — and annually — which covers, among other things, the importance of opting-in to JROTC and not using the program as a “physical education opt-out.”

The inspector general’s office found that it is often difficult for freshmen to opt out of JROTC. The most widely used consent form at the eight schools surveyed is a health declaration form that contained “much less information about JROTC” than parental consent forms at military academies, according to the report. JROTC instructors did not consistently collect and maintain these forms, according to the inspector general, who recommends a universal parental consent form.

The report quoted a student who said she was unable to get out of freshman JROTC even though she and her mother raised religious objections tied to their faith as Jehovah’s Witnesses. The inspector general’s office said the school kept the student in the program, but she didn’t have to wear a uniform, participate in drills or take an oath.

CPS told the inspector general’s office that it plans to implement an audit and monitoring process in the fall to address JROTC enrollment by school, including the ratio of diverse students enrolled. The inspector general’s office found at one school last year that the percentage of diverse students in JROTC was more than double the school’s overall percentage of diverse students.

tswartz@tribpub.com

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