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School Board to fight state over threats to band, Junior ROTC

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education voted 4-0 today to seek changes in a new state law that officials said would threaten high school band and junior ROTC programs.

Students who take part in a marching band or military training program normally receive exemptions from state physical education requirements because of the physical activity involved. But the California Department of Education has interpreted a bill passed by the Legislature last year - legislation intended to improve PE standards - as meaning that high school freshmen and sophomores can no longer take band or ROTC instead of PE classes, according to SDUSD officials.

The students need to receive physical education credit from a teacher with a physical education credential, said Bruce Ward, the district’s director of physical education. Without the PE credits, students can’t graduate, he said.

The upshot, according to band and ROTC supporters, is that fewer students will opt to get involved with those activities.

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Mark Vizcarra, commander of the junior ROTC program at Patrick Henry High School, said he will lose half his members, and his program will eventually “vanish.’'

Junior ROTC members are the most physically fit students on campus because of their drills, the commander said.

“It’s counter to the intent of the law’’ for ROTC to go away, Vizcarra said.

He said the school offers its class credit as “PE/ROTC,’' and he reports to a credentialed physical education teacher. The marching band credit is “Marching/PE.’'

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Board members said other high schools might use that as an interim solution to the problem while district officials lobby the state for changes in the law.

The new law affects current ninth-graders, many of whom are enrolled in the traditional manner, with the PE exemption.

Board President Katherine Nakamura, whose son is a ninth-grade marching band member, said she understood that the Grossmont High School band is half the size of what it was because the new law was implemented as is.

The Poway Unified School District and Arcadia Unified School District in Los Angeles County, both with renowned high school band programs, oppose the law, she said.

“Let’s stand up and let’s fight,’' a visibly angry Nakamura said.

Band boosters and parents of students in the programs need to get involved and lobby their legislators, Superintendent Terry Grier said.

According to Ward, students who take surfing, sailing and cheer classes instead of PE will also be impacted.

While the PE law affects a number of programs, junior ROTC specifically has been attacked this year in other ways.

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Students, teachers and community activists have spoken during public comment portions of meetings and called them “militaristic.’'

The opponents have also said a target range at Mission Bay High School violates the district’s zero-tolerance policy on possessing firearms on campus.