A new law intended to break down barriers for Virginia homeschool students pursuing a military career goes into effect July 1. The law reinforces federal regulations regarding the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), a national program that can help jumpstart those careers.

House Bill 1231 calls for a new state-level process aimed at enforcing federal law allowing homeschool students to enroll in JROTC programs offered by public high schools.

The Home School Legal Defense Association’s Scott Woodruff, director of legal and legislative advocacy, worked with Delegate Geary Higgins to draft and introduce the beneficial legislation.

Legal Reminder

Some homeschool students have encountered obstacles while signing up for JROTC in recent years. For example, HSLDA advocated on behalf of Ryan Carbonel in 2023. He was turned away from the program at a public school in Virginia’s tidewater region the previous fall.

Peter Kamakawiwoole, HSLDA director of litigation, handled Ryan’s situation by reminding school officials about a 2020 amendment to federal law requiring public schools to admit qualified homeschooled students into JROTC. The school finally enrolled Ryan in its program in March of last year.

H.B. 1231 orders the Virginia Department of Education to notify local school boards of their obligations regarding homeschool students’ access to JROTC. This emulates many other state regulations that remind officials of obligations under various federal laws.

“We’re optimistic that this new legislation will reduce these kinds of problems,” Woodruff said. “It provides another way to enforce the rules when homeschool students are being denied opportunities they have every right to access.”

Looking to Serve

Ryan, on track to graduate in May, said that taking part in JROTC has provided a tremendous boost to his goal of entering the Air Force as a commissioned officer.

Since his initial setback, he said, “I’ve been able to participate fully.”

Activities he’s particularly enjoyed include orienteering training using a map and compass, as well as competing as a member of various drill teams. Ryan has also worked closely with instructors to help update course materials, including a handbook and slide decks to show retired Air Force personnel who periodically inspect JROTC programs.

The physical fitness program provided a specific benefit when Ryan tested as part of his application to the US Air Force Academy. He said he felt confident he could satisfactorily perform push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and a one mile run because he’d been doing these exercises regularly for JROTC. That regimen “is geared the same way,” he said. “That really helped boost my score.”

Though Ryan was not chosen for immediate admission to the Air Force Academy, he did accept a scholarship to attend a special program at the Marion Military Institute in Alabama this fall. Upon completing the one-year program at Marion, Ryan should be considered a top candidate for entering the academy as a cadet next year.

“He was also offered an all-expense-paid, three-week flight academy, which he’ll attend in July before prep school,” Ryan’s mother, Ashley Carbonel, said.

Ryan also qualified for a scholarship to attend Norwich University, a private military school in Vermont. Norwich runs ROTC programs that provide a pathway to earning a commission as an officer in any branch of the US military.

Career Goals

Wherever he attends college, Ryan hopes to pursue a career either as a pilot or in cybersecurity.

His interest in cybersecurity also developed from JROTC studies into how the military helps protect computers from attack and how to probe enemy communication and command systems. Topics included coding, ethical hacking, and networking.

Last semester, Ryan tried to recruit other JROTC cadets to form a cyber studies team in hopes of competing in a national competition this spring. The Army JROTC website describes the event as “the nation’s largest cyber defense competition that puts high school and middle school students in charge of securing virtual networks.”

Given the way JROTC has helped him pursue his personal aims, Ryan said he would recommend it to other homeschool students who are interested in the military.

“It’s definitely worth it,” he noted. “You get a lot of good training and hands-on experience working with different people from different backgrounds.”

Ashley agreed. She said JROTC not only helped build qualities in her son that military leaders want to see, but his participation demonstrates a sincere commitment to pursuing a certain type of career.

“It’s been a huge blessing, because he’s been able to become more responsible and set an example,” she said. As for college recruiters and instructors, “I think they see the difference. As a homeschooler, Ryan’s making an extra effort to be involved.”