Congress Approves Sweeping New Protections for J.R.O.T.C. Cadets

The News: Congress has passed new rules on the military’s high school training program.

The U.S. military program that provides leadership and civic values training for students in thousands of high schools across the country will have more oversight thanks to new legislation approved by Congress this week. The changes came after complaints of sexual abuse by instructors and instances of schools requiring students to enroll in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, also known as J.R.O.T.C.

A J.R.O.T.C. marksmanship event in Cape Coral, Fla. Credit…Zack Wittman for The New York Times

Background: J.R.O.T.C. programs have operated with little oversight.

The program has grown over the past century and now serves a half-million students each year, teaching teenagers military history, leadership, life skills and marksmanship. The programs are offered in public high schools, with retired officers or noncommissioned officers vetted by the military acting as instructors.

The New York Times reported in 2022 that at least 33 J.R.O.T.C. instructors had been criminally charged with sexual misconduct involving students over a five-year period, and uncovered other cases that had not resulted in charges or discipline. The investigation showed that instructors had exploited their role as mentors to manipulate and abuse students. The instructors often operated with little oversight, working on the fringes of school campuses and without direct supervision by military overseers.

Some high schools were automatically enrolling students in J.R.O.T.C., keeping them there even when they objected to the classes. At some high schools, in places like Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City and Mobile, Ala., more than 75 percent of students in a single grade were enrolled.

Military leaders have viewed J.R.O.T.C. as a valuable recruiting tool, as students who encounter the program are more likely to enlist.

What Happens Next: The legislation requires more Pentagon oversight.

The legislation, part of a military spending bill that is expected to be signed by President Biden, requires schools to notify the military within 48 hours of any allegations of misconduct, and to inform students of how to report sexual misconduct. The Department of Defense will be required to produce an annual report on any such allegations and on what was done to investigate them. The Pentagon must also conduct regular inspections of J.R.O.T.C. units.

The legislation requires participating schools to have a process to ensure that students who enroll are doing so voluntarily.

Links to Go Deeper: Here’s more on the J.R.O.T.C. program.

  • ‘I Felt Trapped’: Sexual Abuse of Teens in the Military’s J.R.O.T.C. Program

  • In Public Schools, the N.R.A. Gets a Boost From Junior R.O.T.C.

  • Thousands of Teens Are Being Pushed Into Military’s Junior R.O.T.C.

  • J.R.O.T.C. Textbooks Offer an Alternative View of the World

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