With little fanfare and no public debate, Montgomery County school officials have approved the first accredited courses in military training ever offered in the county schools.
Starting in the fall, two high schools -- Northwood and Springbrook -- will offer Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs, staffed and partially funded by the military, in which students may enroll as elective courses. A decade ago, when campus protests against the Vietnam War often focused on ROTC, it would have been impossible to start such courses, according to Montgomery County officials, but they were approved last week without even a formal vote.
Changing attitudes toward the military and the possibility of college ROTC scholarships have led an increasing number of schools in the Washington area to establish JROTC units.
The District of Columbia school system is planning to start an Army JROTC program at Anacostia High School this fall for a city-wide total of six Army units, two Air Force units and one Navy unit. Arlington schools are working toward beginning Air Force and Navy JROTCs in the fall of 1982 and Prince Georg's County is adding another Air Force unit at Suitland High School for a total of 10 service units in the county.
In all those cases, the programs were approved without the kind of controversy that led the Fairfax school board in 1974 to reject JROTC after a stormy debate over control of course content and the advocacy of military careers. In Baltimore, however, where there are now two JROTC programs, a recent proposal to start another Air Force unit led to protests by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the American Friends Service Committee and other groups.
JROTC units of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps were established by an act of Congress in 1964. The total number of units that each service may have is set by law, and although the ceiling has been raised several times, many high schools are on the waiting list to participate. Northwood High School waited two years to get a unit of Air Force JROTC, which has 36,700 students throughout the country.
More than 100 students at Northwood High Shcool in Silver Spring have signed up for the Air Force course, including a dozen students who have requested transfers to the school for the program. Springbrook High School in Silver Spring expects to have about 70 students in its new Navy JROTC course.
Career opportunity is why Dr. Thomas P. Marshall, principal of Springbrook High School, sought the program.
"It gives those students who are interested in a military career first-hand experience to see if that can be sustained, and the military career is not the only possibility," he said. "There are police careers and other community services -- rescue work, fire science."
Walter T. Camp, a Springbrook sophomore who attended a recent information meeting on JROTC, said he thinks the courses will be something unique. "What attracted me was the leadership, the responsibility and the fact that it will be more than attending another class -- that impressed me, he said.
Col. Bill Reynolds, who teaches the Air Force unit at Largo Senior High School in Upper Marlboro, said that 60 percent of the Air Force curriculum is academic and 40 percent is leadership lab, a part of which is drill. There is no weaponry taught and guns are not used in drill. Montgomery's program will be the same.
Part of the attraction of the program is that the military pays for most of it. The course is taught by a retired officer and an aide, half of whose salaries are paid by the school system. The remainder of the salaries and all the textbooks, equipment and uniforms that students are required to wear at least one day a week are provided by the military.
School officials, who have no control over course content, say they are confident the instruction will be satisfactory.
"We felt it was a legitimate curriculum, that it had substance and was feasible in the high school," said Dr. George Usdansky, coordinator of new program development. "The only concern was not so much an objection to the military part but to the armed services dictating with great specificity what will go on in the course. They even are specific as to the number of cubic feet in the room."
"It's more than simply military," said Carol Wallace, president of the school board. "They're taught science, they're taught math. But even if it was military, I personally would not be against it if it means we are coming back to the age when students have more pride in nation and pride in self."
Although school officials stress that the courses do not commit a student to a military career. Air Force figures indicate that about 90 percent of the high school students who take all three years of JROTC go on to a military-related field, such as active duty, the reserve, the National Guard, the military academies or college ROTC.