February 02, 2023

Senators Warren, Hirono, Sanders, and Wyden Question DoD over Reports of Students Forced into JROTC Enrollment

NY Times investigation raises concerns that the implementation of this program may be violating students’ civil rights by forcing them into JROTC programs with mandatory requirements Senate investigation reveals DoD received 114 allegations of violence, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment over the past 10 years

Text of Letter (PDF) | Response from ED | Response from DoD

Washington, D.C. — United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter, along with Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, to the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Education (ED) amid reports of students being forced to join the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program. The lawmakers are also raising concern about reports that some JROTC instructors are promoting the National Rifle Association (NRA) in order to secure grants and sponsorships.

“The actions by schools to make JROTC mandatory are also not consistent with Pentagon guidelines. JROTC instructors told the Times they are “creat(ing) problems with discipline and morale,” wrote the lawmakers.

A recent New York Times investigation found “dozens of schools have made the program mandatory or steered more than 75 percent of students in a single grade into the classes,” raising major questions about whether DoD and ED are conducting appropriate oversight of JROTC. These mandatory JROTC enrollments appear to be  disproportionately affecting communities of color and already vulnerable students from low-income backgrounds.

“JROTC uniform standards largely reflect those of the military services, and members of our all-volunteer military force are aware when they choose to serve that they will have to meet these standards,” wrote the lawmakers. “But students conscripted into JROTC have no such choice. This forces students of color to conform to dress codes and hairstyles that, in practice, discriminate by race.”

The lawmakers are also writing to the agencies raising concern that in order to obtain NRA grants and sponsorships for JROTC marksmanship training and competitions, instructors at public high schools “have repeatedly promised to promote the organization at competitions and in newsletters, post N.R.A. banners at their schools or add the N.R.A. logo to apparel worn by students.” Some instructors went as far as encouraging students to join the N.R.A. and “volunteered students to participate in N.R.A. fund-raising events.”

“DoD ethics regulations make clear that DoD employees are prohibited from fundraising for outside entities except under very limited circumstances, (...) wrote the lawmakers. “Given these clear expectations for DoD employees, it is unfathomable why JROTC instructors think it would be appropriate to direct students to volunteer for NRA fundraising.”

Senator Warren also released responses from DoD and ED to the September 2021 letter she led which asked to learn more about current processes to ensure the safety of students in the program and to determine where those processes failed and left students vulnerable to sexual misconduct. DoD reported it had received 114 allegations of acts of violence, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment by instructors against students in the JROTC program over the past ten years, with only one instructor cleared of all charges. 

The Navy reported it had no specific policy to address adult sexual misconduct within its JROTC program. ED told the Senators it was only aware of three Title IX violation complaints in JROTC programs over the same time period. ED also stated that DoD and ED “are reviewing effective practices” for ED to receive reports of sexual misconduct from DoD, but it’s clear that the risks to many of these students were not prevented by current practices.

“We understand the ongoing concerns about military recruitment, and support programs to address recruiting shortfalls,” wrote the lawmakers. “But the JROTC program cannot help address these problems and uphold its mission to instill ‘the values of citizenship, service to the United States…and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment’  if students are forced to participate against their will.”

The lawmakers are requesting a response to their questions to better understand DoD and ED’s oversight of the JROTC program later than February 15, 2023.

  • On September 23, 2022, during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) questioned top Department of Defense (DoD) personnel officials on distributing reports of widespread patterns of sexual misconduct by instructors in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program, where they admitted DoD’s lack of adequate oversight to prevent sexual misconduct by instructors and ensure the safety of students.
  • On September 21, 2022, Senator Warren, along with Senators Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Hirono (D-Hawaii), opened an investigation into the JROTC program, following disturbing reports of widespread patterns of sexual misconduct by instructors in the program.