CHICAGO — Hundreds of Chicago Public Schools students were automatically enrolled in JROTC programs — and some struggled or weren’t able to get out of the military program, which is meant to be voluntary, according to a watchdog report.
Almost all of the schools that saw the most students automatically enrolled in JROTC were on the South and West sides, while North Side schools did not see nearly as much of a problem with automatic enrollment, according to a newly released report from the CPS Office of the Inspector General. The issues raise “obvious concerns about inequity,” according to the watchdog.
Last year, Chalkbeat revealed CPS was automatically enrolling some students — many of them Latino or Black — into JROTC, a program that recruits students into the military.
CPS’ Office of the Inspector General investigated, and, in a report released Wednesday, detailed the issue: Students at some high schools were automatically enrolled in the program and had to get themselves removed from it — a task that was not always possible. “Some opt-out procedures were never explained or not easily achieved when attempted,” according to the inspector general’s report.
The Office of the Inspector General provided 10 recommendations to CPS about how it could make changes to this process, and CPS “largely supports them,” according to the report.
A key change: No school should automatically enroll students in the JROTC program unless “it is a feature of the school’s program;” even then, that practice should be disclosed, according to the report.
Four of 37 CPS schools with JROTC programs enrolled all of their freshmen in the program for at least two years in a row, according to the investigation. Another four schools enrolled more than 91 percent of their students in the program the past two years.
That means more than one in five CPS schools with a JROTC program enrolled nearly all — or all — of their freshmen in the military program for at least the past two years, according to the watchdog report. Many students from schools with high enrollment rates for JROTC told investigators they’d been automatically enrolled; some were told it was in lieu of taking a physical education class, while some said they were never offered freshman physical education, according to the agency.
Enrolled students had to wear a JROTC uniform once per week, according to the Office of the Inspector General. The uniforms resemble military uniforms.
Those students also had to participate in JROTC drills and follow the program’s “grooming standards” — “graduation hurdles freshmen in most CPS high schools did not have to navigate,” according to the inspector general’s report.
Some students said they were surprised to learn they’d been enrolled, and one said she’d tried to opt out due to her religious views but was not allowed to, according to investigators.
Principals tried to explain the process by saying they’d had trouble finding physical education teachers or had to cut them due to constraints on the budget, which meant students were put in JROTC instead of in the physical education class that should have been offered to them, according to the report.
One principal also told investigators freshmen had been automatically enrolled in JROTC to “save” the program, as the school could lose its JROTC program if not enough students were enrolled, according to the report.
Parents are supposed to sign forms showing they consent to have their student in a JROTC program, but none of the instructions at the eight schools with the highest JROTC enrollment could provide a random sample of those forms when requested, according to the report. And the consent forms used by most of the schools “contained so little information” that parents signing them were not actually able to provide consent, according to the watchdog.
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