School officials eye second bid to replace JROTC

A tearful Gracie Luckado, an executive officer in the Army Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program that ended at Patrick County High School on June 30, was among former cadets and others to address the Patrick County School Board on Thursday. (Photo by Amanda Collins)
Schools Superintendent Bill Sroufe (L) and Ronnie Terry (R), chairman of the Patrick County School Board, listen as a former JROTC cadet speaks at Thursday’s meeting. (Photo by Debbie Hall)

For the second time since the Army Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program ended on June 30, Patrick school officials are looking at “another exciting option/opportunity” to replace it.

The school board did not discuss the option at their meeting on Thursday. It was posted on a social media page Friday at 10:30 p.m., by Trey Cox, principal at Patrick County High School (PCHS).

The remainder of the post is a communication from Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Lt. Col. Stephen R. Howard, the aerospace education officer for the Mobile Composite Squadron, Alabama Wing.

It states, in part, that Howard was saddened “to hear of the loss of your JROTC program. But I would like to make you aware of a I believe a less expensive program with good benefits both for the school and the students. The program is Civil Air Patrol (CAP), the Auxiliary of the United States Air Force.”

The post details other information related to the program, and if adopted by the school division, would mark the second attempt to replace the JROTC program.

The first was announced on August 8, also via Cox’s social media page.

It stated, in part, “Excited to share that Patrick County High School will be starting our first Cougar Military Club. This will be a non-divisional club and will incorporate all branches of services to give all the students in the military club a chance to pick their own destination.”
The school board did not discuss the club at their meeting Thursday, but former JROTC cadets said they would not participate in it.

During their emotionally charged and often tearful comments, cadets and others again pleaded with school officials to reinstate the JROTC program.

Many of the cadets said they planned to enter their senior year in the program that they said was ripped from them at the eleventh hour. Many of the students have said they were not notified that the school was ending the contract with the Army until the end of the semester.

While many said they are in their final year of high school, and reinstatement of the program will not benefit them, they want to ensure future students have access to the program.

School officials have said enrollment in the program had dropped, as had the number of program participants who went on to join the military. Additionally, the potential instructor referred by the Army to replace a retiree opted to take a job elsewhere.

Army officials, students and other speakers said JROTC is not designed to encourage students to enter the military.

Cadets told school officials the program instilled values in them that are not taught in any other classes; values such as respect, integrity, honor, helping others and standing up for what they believe is right. Many said they felt they were part of a family and that the program taught them discipline, how to handle anger and other painful issues. One even said the program taught him to cope with being bullied and helped keep suicidal feelings at bay.

Cadets also held a rally held before Thursday’s meeting. Carrying signs that read “Is the school board really putting a price tag on a child’s life?” and “You can take the family class away, but not the family,” many students spoke during the rally.

Gracie Luckado, an executive officer in the JROTC program, said students were informed over the summer that the class would be “taken away from us.” She said students, cadets and others in the community did not have an opportunity to respond.

“This class should never have been taken away from our community,” Luckado said, adding students in the program also volunteered for community service projects, and participated in events that included veteran’s parades, sporting events and others.

A cadet died during the Parkland, Fla. school shooting and was buried in his JROTC uniform because “he was trying to help kids” in the school, Luckado said. “We were taught to help others. We were taught to help our community. JROTC helps everyone, and I don’t understand why the program was torn from us.”

Some cadets suggested school officials conduct a survey to determine support for the program.

Another cadet, Kevin Flint, said the end of JROTC hurt so many, “and it feels as if you all are not listening … I’m tired of all this hate and resentment.”

Flint said he knew the school board had several issues members are working to address, and “I want you all to know you aren’t alone. We’re here for you.”

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