Summer time represents nearly 260,000 military moves across the United States and around the globe – if this was a normal summer.
But for military families this season has brought many families to the brink. They are changing locales and their children are changing schools amid the greatest educational disruption in recent memory.
The pandemic has paused or nearly reversed the education of all U.S. kids, civilian and military-connected alike. But the uncertainty is particularly harsh for military kids as their families pull up stakes in one area of the country only to move into the chaos of another. Or, even more daunting is moving overseas or returning home. It’s an insane process to uproot a family during a pandemic.
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.”
Military families with school-age children are living life in limbo while at home and swallowing hefty doses of uncertainty with every news cycle. Parents are gaming out what the future of school will look like, anticipating multiple scenarios coupled with as many unknowns. Attending school in person, but fully expecting to be in quarantine within weeks. Social isolation is a real concern for parents with tweens and teens. Moving to a new location without the ability to connect to their new community is proving to be the hardest challenge. And our military kids who need special education and assistance, we worry the most about them finding services and support in a new location during covid restrictions.
We are facing extended deployments and delayed moves. For some, relocations are happening weeks or months into the start of school where housing is in short supply. 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 and reopening of schools, hybrid schedules, waiving of standardized testing and the unclear vision of the future. Every state, county and school district seem to have its own individual approach for returning to school with no clear federal guidance, which is like navigating the future through a kaleidoscope.
As a parent to military-connected children who recently experienced the stress of a PCS, 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 which has been signed by commissioners of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
While the Compact is limited in its coverage, it does address the key issues encountered by military families in education. The Compact provides for a detailed governance structure at both the state and national levels. It’s a critical component to supporting military-connected students in the classroom and should be required reading by every school principal in America.
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 healthcare 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 a military-connected student arrives to start their school journey with you, whether in-person or on zoom or via email, their parents are carrying an invisible backpack on their shoulders weighted heavily with the emotional stress of the last several months of moving while still supporting the fight against America’s enemies. 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 — Thank you for being an educator. Thank you for all the hard work to make this school year happen. We know you have much to worry about, but please don’t forget about us. The children of active duty service members have traveled a hard, long road through a worldwide pandemic to get to your school, their new school. Please be gentle with us, but more importantly, please be informed about the unique challenges we are facing.
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 Parents and Teachers.”