The DeKalb County School System has postponed by at least a year its plans to open a public military high school near Brookhaven with the support of the U.S. Marine Corps.
The school system announced May 29 that the controversial proposal could not proceed during the upcoming school year because the Marine Corps has not signed the memorandum of agreement that would govern the school.
Promoted by Superintendent Crawford Lewis, the Marine academy appeared to be on the fast track after the proposal was presented to the DeKalb Board of Education in March. Lewis announced at a community redistricting meeting in mid-April that the high school would open in the now-vacated Heritage Center off Briarcliff Road east of Brookhaven in August, then move to another location the next year.
Now there is no guarantee the school will open even in August 2010, although that is the school system’s intention. If it does open, there’s no indication where it will be.
The Heritage site brought complaints even from supporters of the concept of the academy. They argued that the former elementary school is too small and that the neighborhood could not handle the added traffic.
In announcing the failure to complete the agreement with the Marine Corps, the school system said the issues included building selection and modification. Among the other items in dispute are the application process for students, the curriculum and other elements of the school’s administration.
Attorneys for the school system and the Marine Corps will continue to work on those issues.
As outlined by Lewis in letters and meetings, the high school would serve up to 650 capable but struggling students with a curriculum mixing Junior ROTC-type military discipline and an emphasis on math and science. The Marines would share the costs of the school and provide personnel including a commandant, who would work alongside a DeKalb principal.
The academy would counteract what Lewis called “urban inertia,” the combination of forces such as poverty and absentee parents preventing DeKalb youths from graduating high school and becoming productive citizens. He said the goal of the school was to boost the county’s 72.5 percent graduation rate, not stake a position “along the pro-military/pro-peace continuum.”
Students would attend the academy only at the choice of their families, and the school would carry no commitment to military service after graduation.
But groups such as the Georgia Veterans Alliance, Grandmothers for Peace, the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, and the American Friends Service Committee have presented vigorous opposition to the academy on the grounds that it’s merely a Marine recruitment tool.
Tim Franzen of the American Friends Service Committee presented a resolution opposing the Marine institute to the Board of Education at its meeting June 1. Citing the use of the Marine Corps’ recruitment budget to pay for its share of the academy, the resolution says the school would violate the United States’ commitment under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child not to recruit children under age 17 into the military.
The resolution also says similar public military academies in Chicago have not improved graduation rates and argues that the money the county would spend on the academy could be better used elsewhere. “Therefore, be it resolved that the DeKalb County Board of Education cease all current and future plans to establish the DeKalb County Marine Corps Institute or any other educational institutions administered or financed in part by any division of the United States Armed Forces.”