For nearly 260,000 military members, the summer season signals the onset of the normal move cycle. But for military families, who typically move every two to three years, this season is anything but normal. They are changing locales and schools amid the greatest educational disruption in recent memory.
The pandemic has thrown into flux the education of all U.S. kids, civilian and military-connected alike. But the uncertainty is particularly pronounced for military kids as their families pull up stakes in one region and put down others elsewhere amid the chaos.
Military families with school-age children are living life in limbo while homebound and swallowing hefty doses of uncertainty. Parents are gaming out what the future of school will look like, anticipating multiple scenarios coupled with as many unknowns. They are facing extended deployments and delayed moves. For some, their relocations are pushed back to late summer, fall or even early winter.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recently acknowledged the added stress on military families.
“What we’re trying to figure now is what are the key dates by which we have to consider opening up the system again for PCS (permanent change of station) moves. Some of the priorities that we are focused on are probably those first families with school-age kids,” Esper said. “We know that you need to get to your next assignment and get the kids in school. I know that’s a particular concern.”
Even without a raging pandemic, changing schools is a challenge for military families, especially changing curriculum, special education services and ensuring sufficient graduation credits. The pandemic injects another layer of complications for military kids. Now they face a patchwork of e-learning platforms, the closing of schools, waiving of standardized testing and the unclear vision of the future. Each state, county and school district seems to have its own individual approach for returning to school with no clear federal guidance. It is like navigating the future through a kaleidoscope.
As a parent to military-connected children, my message to K-12 school administrators this year is simple: it has been a hard journey to get to the front doors of your school. We are in desperate need of grace and understanding, but more importantly we need school staff to be well versed in the education issues covered in the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children (www.mic3.net), a compact signed by all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
From graduation requirements to special needs, not all military families know their benefits under this nationwide policy.
While the compact is limited in its coverage, it does address the key issues encountered by military families in education. It’s a critical component for supporting military-connected students in the classroom and should be required reading by every school principal in the U.S.
The goal of the compact is to standardize the widely varying school policies affecting transitioning military students moving state to state or overseas. It leverages consistency and focuses on the military child.
Whether it’s the ability to obtain official transcripts from a school that has shuttered its doors until further notice or the missing immunization records because parents couldn’t find a health-care provider in a new location, these items and many others shouldn’t delay military-connected students from registering for school because they fall under the compact. The compact also allows schools flexibility in placement and enrollment of students and provides provisions for graduation requirements.
When military families walk through the door to enroll their kids, whether in-person or on Zoom or via email, we are carrying an invisible backpack on our shoulders weighted heavily with the emotional stress of the last several months of moving. It will be all that much heavier this time around due to the impact of the pandemic. A simple gesture of understanding and compliance with the compact from school staff at first contact will help our families begin the process of settling in this very unsettling time.
To every public-school principal that services military families: the children of active duty service members have traveled a hard, long road through a worldwide pandemic to get to their new school. Please be gentle with us, but more importantly, please be informed.
A member of Military Families for High Standards, Allsbrook-Huisman is an Air Force spouse and co-author of the book, “Seasons of My Military Student: Practical Ideas for Par ents and Teachers.”
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.