Hundreds automatically enrolled in military-type education classes at CPS that were supposed to be voluntary, watchdog finds

The enrollment reached 100% of freshmen at four Chicago Public Schools during the last two years, according to the report from the CPS inspector general.

SHARE Hundreds automatically enrolled in military-type education classes at CPS that were supposed to be voluntary, watchdog finds
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Hundreds of CPS students — many at West and South side schools — were automatically enrolled at military-type education classes, a new OIG report has found. | Sun-Times file photo.

Hundreds of high school freshmen were automatically enrolled in what were supposed to be voluntary military-type education classes, a new report has found.

For two years in a row, four of the 37 CPS with Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps [JROTC] programs enrolled 100% of their freshmen in the classes, even though the students weren’t required to take take them, according to a report released Tuesday from the district’s Office of the Inspector General.

Another four schools enrolled between 91 and 99 percent of freshmen, the report states.

The findings, released Wednesday, were prompted by a June 2021 Chalkbeat Chicago report, which detailed how automatic enrollment occurred at “smaller high schools on the city’s South and West Sides that serve a mostly low-income student body.”

Students had to actively remove themselves from the classes — a process that wasn’t well publicized or easy to do.

“At some CPS high schools, JROTC enrollment often operated like a pre-checked box: Students were automatically placed in JROTC and they had to get themselves removed from it if they did not want it,” a summary of the report said. “Sometimes this was possible; sometimes it was not. Some opt-out procedures were never explained or not easily achieved when attempted.”

When asked about their high JROTC enrollment, some school principals spoke highly of the program, according to the report.

“Among other things, they liked its emphasis on leadership-building skills, its scholarship opportunities and the JROTC field trips it offered ‘under-exposed students,’” the report stated.

The principals said they relied on JROTC enrollment for a variety of reasons, including a lack of funding to keep physical education teachers and a shortage of candidates for open positions, the report found.

Some principals said the ROTC classes saved schools money because CPS and the U.S. Department of Defense split the cost, according to the report.

As a result of the findings, the inspector general issued 10 recommendations, most of which CPS supports, according to the report. They include, among other things, creating a “universal CPS JROTC parent consent form” and requiring a standard physical education option in neighborhood JROTC program schools.

CPS responded to the report in a statement issued Wednesday saying it was implementing new procedures and updating pay for instructors. While some improvements were already underway, some will be implemented this fall.

“The district takes all findings of the Office of the Inspector General seriously and replied to the Inspector General on April 20, adopting all recommendations,” the statement reads.

“CPS has already updated policies and procedures related to our JROTC programming, including our enrollment process, public records training, principal training related to JROTC program administration, and a new military instructor pay scale.”

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