SPECIAL REPORT

a division of Home School Legal Defense Association
September 4, 2007

Home Schoolers Gain Equal Access to Department of Defense Schools

by Christopher J. Klicka

Introduction

Home schooling is a logical choice for families in the military, providing a stable environment for children in the midst of frequent change. More important than the academic continuity is the opportunity to develop close-knit family bonds—the most secure support system children can have.

While home schooling on a domestic assignment has its own challenges, foreign assignments can bring added challenges. In addition to legal questions, overseas military home schoolers can face practical obstacles. For instance, fewer English-speaking groups, and even fewer home school families, may mean fewer opportunities to become involved in extracurricular activities, such as sports or band.

Until recently, overseas Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) inconsistently applied their home school participation policies: some schools allowed home schoolers to participate in sports but not single classes; some allowed participation in band but not sports; and still others allowed participation in all activities and classes, but only if the student enrolled in four DoDDS classes per day. For this reason, Home School Legal Defense Association pursued a blanket policy allowing home schoolers to participate in the extracurricular activities of overseas DoDDS schools.

Equal Access for Home Schoolers in the DoD Schools

In May 1999,HSLDA persuaded the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Forces Committee to direct the Secretary of Defense to develop a clear, written policy on the department’s support of home schoolers. The committee inserted the directive in its report to the full House on the Fiscal Year 2000 Department of Defense Authorization Act. The full text of the committee’s directive follows:

The committee believes that military families who decide to home school their children should be supported by Department of Defense Overseas Schools (DoDDS) to the extent possible. While the committee agrees that a commander’s responsibility to manage an overseas community and a family’s obligation to observe host nation laws render home schooling overseas more challenging than when conducted in the United States, the committee supports responsible school choice for military families. The committee is aware that the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) claims that it fully supports home schooling. DoDEA’s published material and the actual experience of some parents belie that claim, however. The committee believes that DoDEA should take a more proactive approach in establishing a clear policy and providing parents information about available DoDEA support for home schooling overseas, rather than merely directing parents to the overseas commander. To that end, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense to develop clear policy on support for home schooling overseas. That policy, which would officially implement what DoDEA representatives state is actual practice, should specify that home schooled students may be supported with library services, music, sports, single classes, and other programs without having to actually enroll in DoDDS. The committee directs the Secretary to provide the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the House Committee on Armed Services with the new policy directive by October 1, 1999.

(H.Rept. 106-162, accompanying H.R. 1401, May 25, 1999)

This committee directive stressed home schoolers’ two primary concerns. First, it encouraged the DoDEA to become more involved in providing information to overseas home schoolers, rather than relying on possibly misinformed base commanders. Base commanders have enough responsibilities without having to know all the applicable compulsory attendance requirements. The responsibility of disseminating information is properly in the realm of the DoDEA, the agency responsible for running the DoDDS schools. Thus, the committee addressed the problem of misinformed base commanders who often perpetuate misinformation by taking disciplinary actions against legitimate home schoolers.

Second, the committee said that the DoDEA should allow home schoolers to participate in single classes, sports, music, and other services without having to enroll in DoDDS. This statement addressed the problem of some DoDDS schools requiring enrollment in a minimum number of other classes in order to participate in extracurricular activities.

In response to the committee directive, the DoDEA issued the following policy memorandum on March 27, 2000:

It is the policy of the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) to neither encourage nor discourage 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 their dependents.

The DoDEA encompasses both the Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) and Department of Defense Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools (DDESS) systems. As a practical matter, a host nation, state, commonwealth, or territory where a DoD sponsor is stationed may impose legal requirements on home schooling practices in lieu of school attendance. DoDEA encourages DoD sponsors who wish to home school their dependents to communicate their desire to the local military community commander to determine if there are any command policies or other rules that ensure that home schooling practices meet host nation, state, commonwealth, or territorial requirements.

Upon request, DoDEA shall provide dependents who are home schooled with library services and, consistent with existing regulations and policy, single classes, special education services, and participation in extra-curricular and interscholastic activities such as music and sports programs. Home schoolers who choose to use DoDEA services must complete a registration form. When classes carry prerequisites for admission, verification of competence must also be included.

DoDEA does not provide home schooling materials, such as textbooks, workbooks, software, etc., to DoD sponsors wishing to home school their dependents. Obtaining these materials is the responsibility of the DoD sponsor. However, DoDEA schools will loan material to sponsors if those materials would be helpful to the home school program.

What This Means for Home Schoolers

1. Parents have the right to home school.

The policy memo clearly states that “home schooling is a sponsor’s [i.e., parent’s] right.” It is not a privilege granted by the base commander. The DoDEA policy memorandum does not impair any family’s right to home school. As evidenced by the committee directive discussed above, the purpose of the memo is to put into writing the Department of Defense’s policy regarding home schoolers’ access to the DoDDS schools. (For more details, see HSLDA’s Special Report, Military Home Schooling Overseas.)

2. The DoDEA is neutral on home schooling.

The purpose of the DoDEA is neither to encourage nor to discourage parents from home schooling. Rather, the Department of Defense established the DoDEA to ensure that adequate educational resources are available to the dependents of its servicemen, who are often called to serve their country in remote areas of the world where resources comparable to those in the U.S. may not be available. The DoDEA’s position of neutrality in no way disparages a family’s right to home school.

3. Homeschooling while stationed overseas.

For bases located in foreign nations, a military family does not have to follow that nation’s compulsory attendance requirements. After much investigation, HSLDA discovered that as an “unsaid rule” military families are exempt from host nation compulsory attendance laws. Of course, any agreements between that nation and the U.S.—such as a status of forces agreement (SOFA)—should be considered, although most such agreements are silent regarding compulsory attendance.

In addition, military commanders on foreign bases do not have any authority to create compulsory attendance requirement because there is no federal compulsory attendance law.

4. The DoDEA “encourages” home schoolers to communicate with the base commander, but does not require them to do so.

Some home schoolers have been concerned about the DoDEA’s statement that it encourages home schoolers to communicate their desire to home school to the base commander. However, this is merely an encouragement, not a requirement. Parents are not required to contact the base commander in order to home school their children.HSLDA recommends that military home schoolers contact HSLDA to determine their rights and responsibilities as home schoolers.

5. The DoDEA shall provide certain support services to home schoolers.

The DoDEA clearly states that it shall provide dependents who are home schooled with library services, single classes, special education services, and participation in extra-curricular and interscholastic activities such as music and sports programs. Caveat: Home schoolers are still subject to all the normal regulations and policies. This means that home schoolers must abide by any applicable dress codes, attendance/absence rules, class pre-requisites, athletic or musical qualifications, etc. However, students may enroll in single classes without having to meet any minimum number of enrollment hours. DoD schools may not require home school students to enroll in more than one class in order to partake in extracurricular activities, such as music and sports.

If home schoolers wish to take advantage of such services, they must register for the class, but they are not obliged to enroll in other classes beyond any prerequisite courses.

6. The DoDEA will not give materials to home schoolers, but will loan them.

In addition to support services, the DoDEA will loan any available materials to home schoolers. Among the items which home schoolers may request are textbooks, workbooks, and software.

7. The DoDEA encompasses both domestic and foreign DoD schools.

Because the DoDEA oversees both the domestic Department of Defense Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools (DDESS) and the overseas Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS), the policy memorandum applies to DoD schools both at home and abroad. Thus, any military home school family may now request participation in extracurricular activities or other classes at DoD schools.

Conclusion

In conclusion, America’s servicemen have the uncontroverted right to home school their children. However, military home school parents must take steps to ensure they are in compliance with any applicable compulsory attendance laws (which may include requirements under any SOFA agreement). In addition to the right to home school, military families—both foreign and domestic—may participate in single classes, special education, music, or sports without meeting a minimum hour enrollment requirement. Home schoolers may also use the libraries of DoDDS schools, as well as borrow any other materials that may prove helpful to their home school program.

Participation in these services is entirely voluntary and does not diminish one’s right to home school.

Permission to reprint granted.

For more information, contact:

    The Home School Legal Defense Association
    P.O. Box 3000
    Purcellville, VA 20134
    U.S.A.
    Phone: (540) 338-5600
    Fax: (540) 338-9333