When military families are happy and successful, service members are as well. Strong military families help the retention and strength of our armed forces, so it is important to minimize the impact of the mobile military life on military families and their children. Frequent moves to new duty stations can be challenging, especially for parents with school-age children. Parents want to provide a smooth transition from one school system to another, but often they are concerned their children will not be enrolled in the classes they need, be allowed to play their favorite sports or even graduate on time. The Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children is designed to eliminate these concerns!
The compact is an agreement among participating states to alleviate many of the school transition problems military families encounter. As a military parent, you need to be aware of the school transition issues the compact addresses to ensure your child benefits from the educational opportunities.
Overview of the compact
Each state joining the compact agrees to address specific school transition issues in a consistent way and minimize school disruptions for military children transferring from one state school system to another. The compact consists of general policies in four key areas: eligibility, enrollment, placement and graduation. It's up to member states to work together to resolve specific transition issues for individual students.
As of August 2014, 50 states have passed legislation to become members of the compact, including most of those with large numbers of military residents. The Department of Defense Education Activity cannot be a member of the compact but is complying with its provisions in both overseas and domestic schools. In return, the compact member states have agreed to treat students coming from a DoDEA school as though they were transferring from a member state. Visit Military Interstate Children's Compact Commission for additional information.
Military parents are accustomed to delays and frustrations in getting their children enrolled in a new school. The compact has provisions for member states to facilitate enrollment in the following areas:
- Education records. When a family leaves a school district in a member state, the parents may receive a set of unofficial records to carry to the new school in another member state. It will include all the information the new school needs to enroll and place the child until they receive the official records. In addition, the compact requires all sending school districts within member states to send official transcripts within 10 days of a request from the receiving state school district.
- Immunizations. If a child transferring to a member state needs additional immunizations, he or she may enroll and begin school. Parents then have 30 days to see that the child gets the required immunizations. If further immunizations are required, they must be started within 30 calendar days of enrollment. Tuberculosis testing is not covered under the compact since the TB test is not an immunization but rather a health screening.
- Kindergarten and first grade entrance age. If the entrance age requirement in the new school system is different, transitioning children may continue in the same grade if they have already started kindergarten or first grade where the family was previously stationed. This provision also allows children to move up to first or second grade, regardless of age requirements, if they have completed kindergarten or first grade in another state.
Placement and attendance
Students from military families often miss appropriate placement in required classes, advanced placement and special-needs programs while awaiting evaluation at the new school. The compact requires cooperation in the following areas:
- Course and education program placement. A receiving school district in a member state must initially honor placement of a student based on his or her enrollment in the sending state, provided the new school has a similar or equivalent program. The receiving school may evaluate the student after placement to ensure it is appropriate, but the school may not put children into "holding classes" while they await assessment. The receiving school may allow the student to attend similar education courses in other schools within the district if the receiving school does not offer such courses.
- Special education services. Students covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act receive the same services (although not necessarily identical programs) identified in the individual education plan from the sending state. This is a parallel requirement under federal law.
- Placement flexibility. School districts are encouraged to determine if course or program prerequisites can be waived for students who have completed similar coursework in the sending school district. This process allows students to take advanced courses rather than repeat similar basic courses.
- Absence related to deployment activities. Students in member states may request additional, excused absences to visit with their parent or legal guardian immediately before, during and after deployment. Schools have flexibility in approving absences if there are competing circumstances such as state testing or if the student already has excessive absences.
The compact asks school districts in member states to examine their rules for eligibility to allow children of military parents to have the continuity they need.
- Enrollment. When a child of a deployed parent is staying with a non-custodial parent, a relative or a friend who is officially acting in place of the parents and lives outside of the home school district, the child may continue to attend his or her own school as long as the care provider ensures transportation to school. The compact also stipulates that a power of attorney for guardianship is sufficient for enrollment and all other actions requiring parental participation or consent.
- Extracurricular participation. When children transfer to a new school, their participation in extracurricular activities is facilitated - provided they're eligible - even if application deadlines and tryouts have passed. Schools must make reasonable accommodations but are not required to hold spaces open for military-related transferees.
School transitions can be especially challenging for high school students. The compact requires school districts to make the following accommodations to facilitate on-time graduation:
- Course waivers. School districts in member states may waive courses required for graduation if similar coursework has been completed in another school. Such waivers are not mandatory under the compact, but a school district must show reasonable justification to deny a waiver.
- Exit exams. Under the compact, a school district may accept the sending state's exit exams, achievement tests or other tests required for graduation instead of requiring the student to meet the testing requirements of the receiving state. States have flexibility to determine what tests they will accept or require the student to take.
- Transfers during senior year. If a student moves during the senior year and the receiving state is unable to make the necessary accommodations for required courses and exit exams, the two school districts must work together to obtain a diploma from the sending school so the student can graduate on time.
The parent's responsibility
If you have school age children, you'll want to understand all of the provisions as well as the limitations of the compact. For example, the compact does not address the quality of education or require a state to change any of its standards or education criteria. You can learn more about the Military Interstate Children's Compact Commission by visiting USA4 Military Families to find out about the ways the Department of Defense is working with the states to improve support for military families.
If you have a concern about a provision of the compact as it relates to your child, it's best to contact the school first. However, if your state is new to the compact, don't be surprised if some local school personnel are not yet fully aware of the compact's provisions. The school liaison at your installation can help you work with the school to get your questions answered or give you information on next steps to take if your concern cannot be successfully resolved. To find the contact information for your installation's SL, visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS; in the dropdown menu for ‘Select a program or service,' choose ‘School Liaison Office/Community Schools.'