Called to Serve: Home-Schooling Families in the Military
- Tuesday, October 08, 2002
“Military families have a ‘get down to business, can-do’ attitude,” says Amy Ingram. “You tend to make it work wherever you are.”
Access to a wide variety of materials and a support network contribute to a smooth home-schooling experience. These resources are often absent overseas. Like home schooling in the States, educating at home overseas is much easier without a local school district breathing down a family’s neck. Fortunately, the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS), the agency in charge of military school systems, cannot prohibit a military family from home schooling. Nor can officials “approve” or regulate a home-schooling family’s academic program.
As with civilian families, military home schoolers are subject to the compulsory attendance laws of the state in which they reside. United States military personnel residing in other countries, however, are not subject to the host country’s compulsory attendance laws because of “status of forces agreements.” These “agreements” are treaties the United States makes with other countries hosting U.S. military installations that dictate how U.S. personnel interact with these host nations.
Most families HSLDA spoke with said they have good relationships with the education authorities on their military post or base. The Ingrams and the Swoggers (both living in the Washington, DC, area) say their experiences with local education officials on base have been positive.
Yet occasionally, as in non-military life, home schoolers will run into DoDDS school officials who do not like or do not understand home education. At a former duty station, the Garveys say, they were hassled by DoDDS personnel when they asked to use a school library.
Shannon Beddo, whose husband is a Department of Defense civilian employee stationed in South Korea, has had similar “library” problems with the base’s school principal. “The principal admitted to me he has never been around . . . home schoolers [and] doesn’t know much about the home-schooling movement,” Shannon says.
Hopefully, problems like this will soon disappear. Last year, HSLDA backed federal legislation to direct DoDDS schools to provide auxiliary services to military home-schooled children overseas. The language was added to the Defense Authorization Bill of 2002 which President Bush signed in December.
Information on changes to such regulations is often slow to trickle down from the Department of Defense to officials on installations around the world. According to Shannon, “[Our] local principal here knows what we tell him and nothing more.” As in the U.S., it often falls to home-school groups to keep local authorities up to speed on the latest laws and regulations.
Yet there are many issues overseas home-schooling support groups face that U.S groups do not see. In the introductory materials of L.I.F.E (Learning in a Family Environment), a home-school group that assists families on three air force bases in England, a special note to potential members begins, “Due to world events and security factors our ‘normal’ group activities have been dramatically affected. Field trips, special events, and gatherings are no longer taking place until further notice.” Military families home schooling overseas deal with security concerns that go beyond waiting in longer airport lines.
Group turnover is also a big issue. Colonel David Ahrens, a U.S. Army inspector general, who with his wife directs the Kanto Home Educators’ Association in Japan, serves both an Army Camp and Navy base. David explained to HSLDA how much confusion this turnover can cause.
“These two commands [Army and Navy] have very different missions that greatly impact the lives of the respective families,” David says. “When [an aircraft carrier] is out to sea, many of the Navy families go back to the States to visit relatives. When the carrier comes back in, the families understandably want to spend time with the sailors who have been gone for several months. On the Army side, there is an ‘exercise season’ that takes the soldiers away from home off and on for several months. Scheduling home-school activities under such conditions becomes a real challenge. . . .”
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