Florida school district looks into JROTC denial for private school student

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.

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BY Sherri Ackerman

Sherri Ackerman is the former associate editor of redefinED. She is a former correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times and reporter for The Tampa Tribune, writing about everything from cops and courts to social services and education. She grew up in Indiana and moved to Tampa as a teenager, graduating from Brandon High School and, later, from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications/news editing. Sherri passed away in March 2016.


Look, if the kid’s parents want to believe in boogie men and send their kid off to church instead of school, why the hell should my tax dollars go for that? And then when the church school doesn’t provide what they want their kid to have they get to suck off even more resources from the real schools?
No wonder Florida is turning into a third world state…

Mr. Mark,

If a parent sends his child to a Christian school, that is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I would invite you to look in to the classes offered and find that it in no way does it glorify “boggie men” but rather love of all be they “saints or sinners by Jesus Christ. As far as taxes go I am sure Mr. Gines pays both Federal and Clay County property taxes which go to support public schools without objection. Finally the other sacrifices that this family may make to ensure a sound education should be applauded.


We send our children to where they can have Religious based
Education, and that is our choice. However having the option to
Join public schools for other activities is our right.
EVEN people who believe in the boogie man pay taxes.
But I guess it’s okay that we help pay for the things your child
Receives at school……
Your right,,, there is a reason that Florida is turning into a third
World state.

Agree, it’s like fighting in a war for the freedom right to be able
to burn the U.S. flag. As long as we have these gray areas we have to
allow people to say stupid things about Christian schools that have nothing
to do with the issue at hand; faith based schools being “boogie men” really?
What a coward and selfish opinion, but we can pay taxes for your
kids to go to public school. What a lame and un factual opinion.
Really? I think there exists boogie men as you say; within the public
School system in America. More power to the Faith!!!

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