Plenty of military families choose to homeschool, and some do so, at least in part, to ease the academic disruptions of changing school districts numerous times while the kids are still in school.
Natalie Mack's military family moved about 16 times throughout her husband's Navy career. So far, four of her homeschooled kids have graduated from high school and gone on to college, with one left to go. The author and speaker shared some of her best advice in an episode of the "PCS with Military.com" podcast. Here's what she said.
Where You're Allowed to Homeschool in the US and Overseas
Homeschooling is permitted in all U.S. states, and military families can homeschool in other NATO countries even where, such as in Germany, homeschooling has proven to be a challenge for locals, Mack said.
Rules and requirements that govern homeschooling vary by state. "Yes, each state has laws that you need to follow, because education is under state jurisdiction," Mack said. But military families' homeschooling isn't regulated in those overseas locations.
The U.S.'s NATO Status of Forces Agreement lets military families homeschool "without any legal requirement" in NATO countries, Mack explained. In non-NATO locations, she suggests consulting the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), where she works as the military community outreach coordinator. Families that join HSLDA can pose questions to the association's lawyers.
Non-NATO countries may have such agreements with the U.S., but they may not address homeschooling.
DoDEA Schools Let Homeschoolers Join Classes, Sports
Aside from a few locations in the eastern U.S., the Department of Defense Education Activity, or DoDEA, mostly educates military kids overseas, serving as their public school district.
And whereas a given state or school district stateside may not offer much to homeschooled students, DoDEA makes a number of opportunities available.
"Homeschoolers have the opportunity to sign up and to take classes. They can take the standardized testing like the AP and the SAT and the PSAT for the high school level. They can also do clubs and activities," Mack said. "They can also participate in sports. They could use the libraries at the local DoDEA school."
Where to Get Help with Homeschooling in the Military
Mack cited three official and one unofficial source for help with homeschooling in the military.
- Social media: Informally, connecting with other parents on social media lets PCSing homeschool families ask questions such as, "I'm going to Fort Hood," or, "I'm going to Camp LeJeune or Camp Pendleton ... What are the laws there? What's homeschooling like?" Mack said. "Social media is what is really the best, most up-to-date, current, relevant place."
- HSLDA: This legal organization also maintains resources on its website available to non-members.
- Homeschooling groups: Often organized at the state level and typically nonprofits, "they just have so much information you can access," Mack said. "Many of them have directories of local support groups."
- Official state websites. State education departments "typically have lots of information as well," she said.
Harnessing the Power of the School Liaison Officer
While Mack characterized the military as having no "official position" on homeschooling because it recognizes that education is generally a state's jurisdiction, the DoD does "affirm" parents' right to homeschool.
Additionally, she said installations' school liaison officers work on behalf of all military-connected students, not just those going to a typical school.
"I think many military homeschoolers perceive the school liaison officer as an advocate for those who are not homeschooling," Mack said. "But what I'm finding is, school liaison officers really want to reach the military homeschooler, and they really want to say, 'Hey, we are here to support you as well.'"
A school liaison officer might be able to help homeschooling groups access facilities or other resources that can be challenging to line up, such as, "Where can we meet?" Mack said. "Where can we host classes? Where can we have holiday parties? Where can we bring in speakers? All of those things."
-- Amanda Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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