Members of the U.S. Marine Corps have visited Gaston Jr/Sr High School three times this year, but only one of those visits was considered to be for recruiting.
For two separate days in May, Marines volunteered on a school cleanup day and to run P.E. classes for high school students. During the classes, of which some opted out of participating, students went around to stations and did typical P.E. activities such as running and hitting a ball. Students also did group exercises such as dragging a peer on the ground or carrying a classmate over their shoulder.
Those military style group exercises sparked concern from some community members.
Forest Grove resident Shelly Heesacker went out to watch the classes with a Gaston resident and another district parent. She said she isn't against the military or recruitment, but was alarmed with the military style exercises because they didn't appear to be P.E. activities. She was also concerned that other parents might not have known the P.E. class had taken place.
Marine Staff Sgt. Jarome Page ran a recruiting session at Gaston this year, and helped out with the district's annual community and school clean up day as a volunteer.
Page also ran the P.E. activities May 22 with Pfc. Sam Wismer. Page said Wismer, a former Gaston graduate, helped facilitate the event. Page also works with Forest Grove, Century and Hillsboro high schools.
Page said that the group activities were to "show (students) a little bit about what we do as Marines." He said students typically have fun with those more challenging exercises.
The district has guidelines for when members of the military make recruiting trips or volunteer at the school.
Recruiting visits must be posted on the school calendar, and recruiters can't give out gifts unless they are "of nominal value." Parents are allowed to watch presentations and students can opt out of participating.
According to Superintendent David Beasley, recruiting trips are usually during lunch. High school students can go into a classroom during that time to speak with recruiters if they choose, he said.
If members of the military volunteer, they can't wear uniforms and can't speak with students about the military while volunteering, according to district rules.
Page said the P.E. class was not for recruiting purposes, but instead was to be involved with the community and encourage physical fitness. He said he spoke with the high school's P.E. teacher, and wasn't given any specific guidelines about what activities he could or couldn't do with students.
Jr/Sr High Principal Susy McKenzie said she spoke with the visiting Marines about presenting on fitness, and clarified that it was not to be a recruiting visit. She said the partner exercises weren't an issue for her.
"I didn't see anything that caused me huge concern at all or I wouldn't have allowed it," she said.
Beasley said it was the first time he knew of that Marines had organized physical activities for students. Overall, Beasley said the district's job is to provide opportunities for students to know more about colleges, careers and military services. He said one or two students joined the military after graduation last year.
"We're not a hotbed of military activity," he said. "It's a viable option for some of our kids."