A private school student denied enrollment in a public school Junior ROTC program in Florida may get a chance to participate after all.
Clay County Superintendent Charlie Van Zant told redefinED Wednesday he is looking into his district’s recent decision with the hope of getting 15-year-old Kevin Gines into JROTC by August. Van Zant also added he is a longtime supporter of school choice options.
“It takes all kinds of programs and school offerings to get our kids where they need to be,’’ he said.
School board member Johnna McKinnon said she also plans to discuss the matter with administrators Wednesday evening, after a special district executive meeting.
“I am not aware that anyone has been denied that ability,’’ said McKinnon, who described herself as “very pro-ROTC.’’
Fellow board member Tina Bullock, a former high school principal, said she couldn’t see any reason Kevin couldn’t be admitted into the program if he was a student in good standing. “It’s clear we accept any student as long as the criteria are met and there is space available,’’ she said. “We’re looking for students.’’
Private school students can participate in public school extra-curricular activities, such as sports, and in gifted programs. And Clay County has welcomed virtual education students, homeschoolers and students from outside the district – with more than 300 special assignments this year alone, Van Zant said.
All three district leaders said they didn’t know about Kevin’s situation until after our story ran Tuesday.
Kevin attends Christian Home Academy in Orange Park on a publicly-funded scholarship for low-income students. (The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.) Someday, he hopes to be a Marine – and he wants to start preparing now.
His dad reached out to a nearby high school with a JRTOC program. That led Jesse Gines (pronounced Hee-nez) to Lyle Bandy, a district administrator who oversees exceptional student education.
In an email Gines shared with redefinED, Bandy cited official Navy JROTC eligibility rules that said Kevin had to be enrolled in the host school – in this case, Middleburg High. Gines pointed to another rule that said Kevin could become a special cadet, instead, without enrolling in the host school.
He’s right, according to retired Comm. Rustie Hibbard, area manager of the NJROTC unit in nearby Jacksonville.
“As long as the principal agrees, we have no restriction on it,’’ Hibbard said. “We’re pretty broad in our selection.’’
In neighboring Duval County, a high school JROTC leader said private school students have participated in the program in the past. He invited Kevin to join, but is awaiting final word from his district supervisors.
Kevin, a freshman, said he is grateful for the opportunity, but the long commute to that school would be hard on his family. An A-and-B student who practices karate and likes social studies and physics, he is hoping his district will let him enroll in a program closer to home.