When Ryan Carbonel applied to an Air Force JROTC program at his local public high school last fall, Virginia school officials said he was ineligible as a homeschool student. That’s when HSLDA stepped in.

The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps is a federal program geared toward preparing high school students for potential future military service. Ryan hoped completing the program would boost his chances of getting into the US Air Force Academy and later serving as an Air Force officer.

The decision to bar him was a major setback, his mother Ashley said. But she had researched federal law governing homeschool participation in JROTC and felt certain the decision was wrong.

So she again contacted the public school and informed them of the pertinent federal law. “They had the copy of the law that I gave them,” she said. “But they completely ignored it.”

Lost Opportunity

Ryan was counting on JROTC to propel him toward his Air Force goals. And as a daily class, the program would provide academic credit toward high school graduation. The decision to bar Ryan would also keep him from opportunities for leadership and camaraderie. He was hoping to bond with JROTC participants he knew from four years in the local Civil Air Patrol unit.

With so much at stake, Ashley decided to contact Home School Legal Defense Association for help.

Closer Look at the Law

In response, HSLDA Litigation Counsel Peter Kamakawiwoole contacted the school district and explained the rationale for excluding Ryan was based on outdated and misguided information.

“The meaning is clear: public schools shall allow homeschooled students to join their JROTC unit as long as the students meet all the requirements for membership in the unit except for the requirement that they be enrolled in the public school,” he wrote, referring to a 2020 amendment to federal law.

School officials took their time responding in order to consult their own attorney.

“It was a long back-and-forth,” Ashley said. “We’ve just been waiting, and it’s been hard.”

Looking to the Future

Ryan finally received word in March that he could join.

He quickly forged ties with the other cadets and was invited to join the drill team. And he’s excited at the prospect of adding JROTC to his other military-related education, which includes dual-enrollment courses at Regent University.

The next step for Ryan is to prepare a request for a service academy nomination from his congressman. If he is accepted, Ryan said he hopes to study cyber security or qualify for training as a fighter pilot.

In the meantime, Ashley said she hopes her son’s perseverance paves the way for other homeschooled students to take advantage of JROTC. She’s grateful that HSLDA’s advocacy helped her family prevail.

“The school system would have happily turned us away,” she said. “Having someone who can help you know your rights and be able to push back is huge.”