J. Michael Smith, Esq.
Michael P. Farris, Esq.
Military Homeschooling Overseas
Over two million children in the United States are being taught at home, and that number continues to grow. As homeschooling becomes more popular across America, more and more military and Department of Defense (DoD) civilian families are turning to this educational alternative as confirmed by leaders of several military homeschool support groups.
Because military personnel are frequently transferred to train or serve at different bases across the country and throughout the world, their children must adjust to a new school with each move. For some children, these moves threaten their sense of security and weaken their self-confidence. Such interruptions in the continuity of life can have a detrimental effect on educational progress.
Homeschooling is a logical choice for families in the military, providing a stable environment in the midst of frequent change. More important than the academic continuity is the opportunity to develop close family bonds—the most secure support system children can have.
Homeschool Requirements for Military Families Outside of the United States
All 50 of the United States have mandatory school attendance laws. The children of U.S. military and DoD civilian personnel overseas, however, are not subject to U.S. state mandatory attendance statutes because the children do not reside in any of the 50 states. Nor are the children subject to mandatory attendance laws in foreign countries, because of NATO Status of Forces Agreement.
The DoD provides elementary and secondary schools for the children of U.S. military families. The law which authorizes Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS) (20 USC 921 932) is a federal law and does not address mandatory attendance. The implementing directive (DoD Directive 1342.13) for the statute does not require mandatory attendance either.
Other U.S. citizens residing overseas (e.g., missionaries), however, are subject to foreign mandatory attendance laws.
Legal Problems Faced by Military Families
In spite of the advantages of homeschooling in the military, some military officials, especially overseas, have challenged the right to homeschool, and have used excessive restriction or intimidation to deter families from pursuing that course. The Home School Legal Defense Association regularly works on behalf of member families faced with questions or conflicts on military bases.
For example, on November 6, 1989, the commander of an Army base in Augsburg, West Germany issued a memorandum (which he later rescinded) condemning homeschooling. Local homeschooling families resisted his memo and the secretary of defense and judge advocates offices were contacted. After these offices reviewed and interpreted the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) Article I, DoDDS statute [20 U.S.C. § 921 932], and DoD Directive 1342.13, they issued the following response:
Public education within the United States is a matter which our constitutional system leaves to the discretion of each State. Each State, therefore, makes its own laws pertaining to education. These laws are binding on all persons within the State’s border, including the dependents of the Department of Defense (DoD) (including the Military Services). The Secretary of Defense does not have the legal authority to issue the kind of regulatory exemption from State education law. The DoD has a specific statutory authority to operate a school for DoD dependents who are assigned overseas.
Our statute, unlike the many State statutes which do not apply overseas, does not compel the attendance of any DoD dependent in DoD Dependents Schools. Therefore, a dependent may choose not to enroll in our program (DoDDS) and to elect, instead, an alternative enrollment; for example, a foreign language school, a private school, or in a home schooling program. Our statute imposes no duty on the DoD to finance the cost of any alternate educational benefits. For these reasons, there is no reason for the Secretary to issue a regulation regulating home schooling for overseas DoD dependents.
A more recent example occurred during the 2007–2008 school year. U.S. military families at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were contacted regarding a new homeschool policy created by the commanding officer of the base. Under the new requirements, the commanding officer would approve home instruction programs, determining whether each had comparable “curriculum content, quantity, and quality to that provided in academic subjects in the same grade level” at Department of Defense schools. Furthermore, homeschool families would have had to establish that they were approved by a governmental agency in the United States. In addition, parents had to demonstrate that they were “capable, by education or experience, of conducting home instruction.”
The policy also stated:
The Commanding Officer may impose requirements for home instruction, including, but not limited to, minimum hours of instruction per day, minimum days of instruction per academic year, records of instruction, inspections, and proof of satisfactory completion of one grade level of home instruction.
The commanding officer indicated that any family that did not comply would be forced to return to the States.
HSLDA wrote to the base commanding officer explaining that there is no compulsory school attendance law for military dependants overseas. Therefore, there is no basis upon which the commanding officer could enact regulations for parents providing home instruction. HSLDA also explained that the new policy violated the fundamental right of parents to choose how to educate their children as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Finally, HSLDA explained that military commanders overseas only have the limited authority to provide free public education, not regulate private education. If a commander believed that there was probable cause of actual neglect of the children’s education, he could investigate families only on that basis. We concluded by requesting that the policy be rescinded immediately.
The commanding officer responded by eliminating all of the requirements of pre-approval of the homeschool curriculum. He issued a complete revision of the earlier policy. The new policy simply asks the family to notify the commander of the name and age of children who will be homeschooled. No other requirements apply except a statement to “encourage families to maintain records to document educational activities and progress.”
In summary, military families do have the right to homeschool. If a military homeschool family resides in the United States, it must abide by the state’s compulsory attendance law. If the military family lives on foreign soil, however, it is not under the jurisdiction of the foreign country’s compulsory attendance law. Nor is it under any regulatory authority of the DoD.
Military families, therefore, have no obligation to seek approval of the DoD to homeschool. A family simply needs to secure a curriculum and begin homeschooling.
Military Homeschoolers’ Access to DoD Academic and Extracurricular Classes
HSLDA helped to create a solution for those who want to receive supplemental education services through the DoDDS schools. On November 6, 2002, the DoD issued its new policy, which creates an equal access policy for homeschoolers that does not require homeschooled students to formally enroll in the DoDDS schools. A copy of the DoDEA Policy Memorandum on Home Schooling is located on the DoDEA website. You can also see a copy of the policy on HSLDA’s website here.
The DoD policy states in part:
It is DoDEA policy neither to encourage nor discourage DoD sponsors from home schooling their minor dependents. DoDEA recognizes that home schooling is a sponsor’s right and can be a legitimate alternative form of education for the sponsor’s dependents.
DoDEA schools will provide and offer home schooled DoD dependents classes and/or special education services, consistent with existing regulations and policy. Dependents of sponsors electing to take a single class or more must complete a registration form and comply with other registry procedures and requirements .
For the purposes of use or receipt of auxiliary services without enrolling or registering in DoDDS, a DoD dependent must be eligible for space-required enrollment as specified in DoD Directive 1342.13, “Eligibility Requirements for Education of Minor Dependents in Overseas Areas.” For the purposes of use or receipt of auxiliary services without enrolling or registering in DDESS, a DoD dependent must be eligible for tuition free enrollment, as specified in DoD Directive 1342.26, “Eligibility Requirements for Minor Dependents to attend Department of Defense Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools (DDESS).”
Military Homeschool Families in the United States
If a military family is homeschooling in the U.S., they need to become familiar with the requirements of the compulsory attendance laws of the state in which they reside. In other words, even though the military has no requirements or jurisdiction over homeschooled children’s education, the local public school authorities do. All requirements for home schoolers that have been established by state courts or enacted by state legislatures apply to the military home school families as well.
Information on your state’s laws can be reviewed on our website at or by calling HSLDA if you are a member.
Homeschooling is not for everybody—but it is for anyone willing to make the commitment to and sacrifice for his or her children. American military families are thankful to have the freedom to choose homeschooling. For answers on how to start homeschooling overseas if you are in the military, to join a military home school support group, or to receive free legislative and regulatory updates, please visit our website.