by Meg Flanagan
Hello and welcome to your crash course in everything DoDEA. That’s the Department of Defense Education Action or, in other simple terms, public K-12 schools located on military installations, serving military families and funded by (you guessed it) the Department of Defense (DoD).
There are a few important things to know about DoD schools. But lucky for you, this post will help you to understand this system.
1. Not all military bases have DoD schools
Unfortunately, DoDEA schools are not currently located at bases west of the Mississippi. This means that a school located on Camp Pendleton in California is not technically a military-kid specific school. (Kind of hard to believe, but there it is!)
DoDEA schools are currently located along the East Coast of the US and extend west to the Mississippi River. There are two regions in the US, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. The US schools also include DoDEA locations in Puerto Rico and Cuba.
2. OCONUS (Overseas) locations offer DoD schools at most military installations
OCONUS locations are generally supported by DoD-funded schools. There may be some exceptions, like for very small duty stations or Embassy tours that are not co-located with a major military base.
Overseas DoD schools are separated into Europe and the Pacific.
- Europe is separated into three zones: East, South, and West.
- The Pacific is also separated into three zones: East, South, and West.
Your specific duty station located will determine which overall school district your child will attend.
3. Location is really important when it comes to DoD school eligibility
Where you live and who you are are important factor sto consider because attendance at a DoD School requires that the child and/or family must meet certain eligibility criteria.
In the US, for your child to attend a DoD school, your family must:
- Reside in on-base housing and have at least one of the following:
- Parent(s) must be active duty service members (this includes Reserve or Guard troops who are activated under Title 10 for 365 days or more)
- Parent(s) must be full-time DoD civilians who live in base housing
- Parent(s) were killed in a combat-related action
- Parent(s) are members of a foreign military service living in permanent military housing
Basically, in the US, you need to live on base to attend the DoD schools. The exception is in Puerto Rico where your family could live off-base and still attend the on-base school.
OCONUS/Overseas, for your child to attend a DoD school, your family must:
- Live on- or off-base and have at least one of the following:
- Parent(s) are active duty or full-time DoD civilian employees
- DoD civilian employees must also be US citizens
4. DoD schools have an enrollment process
Just like enrolling in a traditional public or private school anywhere in the US, you will need to complete the enrollment process. If your child is brand new to your on-base school, you’ll need to provide:
- Date of birth
- Dependent status
- Active duty verification OR DoD civilian status verification
- On-base housing assignment (US schools only)
You’ll likely also be asked to provide forms related to your child’s health history, including vaccination records. And anywhere you live, you’ll always be asked for proof of address. At US-based DoDEA schools, your on-base address is used to determine eligibility.
Every year, you’ll need to provide proof of your child’s continued eligibility. That will include your on-base housing address for CONUS families.
Yes, it’s a lot of forms. But you can grab literally everything you need at the DoDEA registration page!
5. Pay attention to DoD zoning maps
Just like public schools, DoD school districts have zoning maps. Where you physically live will determine which school your child will attend. For example, in Okinawa, students that live on Camps Courtney and McTureous or in the surrounding local off base neighborhoods will likely attend Bechtel Elementary school, located on McTureous.
Each individual location will be different. It’s a good idea to call the DoDEA registrar at your duty station to confirm which specific individual school your child will be attending. You’ll be able to find that information on your location-specific DoDEA website.
There is also an online enrollment portal available for new and returning students. You can confirm eligibility and upload supporting documents using the DORS system.
6. Special education laws apply at DoD schools
DoD schools must follow federal special education law, IDEA. They must provide a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment with a specially designed instructional plan based on available data. That plan is called the IEP.
It’s the law and on-base schools have to follow the law.
However, within a geographic region, not all schools may have the resources available to fully support all students. This most often happens at OCONUS locations.
Overseas schools are given ratings based on the level of support provided in a specific category. This level will correspond to your child’s educational needs. Level 3 provides higher intensity services than a Level 1. Luckily, the DoD has provided a guide for OCONUS schools that clarifies the level(s) of services available in each location. Unfortunately, this guiding document hasn’t been updated in a meaningful way since 2014.
Here’s the catch: even though many, if not most, DoD schools OCONUS can support a variety of students with IEPs not all of them can provide comprehensive educational and/or medical support.
This can cause families to be declined for OCONUS duty stations. Your service member may be offered/required to complete an unaccompanied overseas tour at the location while you and your children remain behind. Or the orders may change entirely to a totally new location.
On the other hand, you wouldn’t want to be stationed somewhere that your child was unable to receive the correct education support or medical treatment. (This is why enrolling in EFMP is required for those with certain medical conditions and/or educational plans.)
7. DoD students with disabilities must be supported
Any student with a disability may qualify for a 504 Plan. This is like an IEP except no specialized instruction happens. It’s all about providing supports so that your child can perform on grade level. Think about 504 Plans as a ramp into a building and an IEP as designing a new building.
As long as your child is medically cleared to move to your duty station and meets all DoDEA eligibility, they can attend the on-base school. And the school will legally be required to provide reasonable supports and accommodations so that your child can access the building, facilities, and instruction at grade level.
8. Moving within DoDEA is streamlined
PCSing? A best practice is to alert your child’s current school about the move at least two weeks (10 business days) prior to departure. If you have more advance notice, provide the appropriate withdrawal/transfer form to the school ASAP.
Upon receiving this form, the front office will gather up your child’s academic records. Prior to moving, you’ll collect these from the school in sealed envelopes. You’ll want to hand-carry these records to your next duty station and use them to enroll your child in school there.
The records will consist of:
- report cards and progress reports
- standardized tests
- IEP or 504 Plan (if applicable)
- attendance records
- disciplinary logs
Your last DoDEA school can also send your next school sealed records via the mail. Some schools require school-to-school records transfers to officially enroll students.
9. DoDEA schools flex for military life
One of the best parts of DoD schools is that they are serving a military-focused community. With few exceptions, there are no purely civilian families without any DoD connections enrolled at on-base schools. Many families seek out locations with DoDEA schools because they know the system is military child-friendly.
The teachers and staff are also military-connected. Many teachers are military spouses or veterans in their second career. Other teachers have worked in the DoDEA system for many years, honing their knowledge of military-connected student needs.
This all means that DoD schools understand the PCS process and can flex around deployments or homecomings. (PSA: Those are unique family life events and may qualify for an excused absence!)
10. DoD schools all fall under one system
Another major factor for families is keeping their children inside one school system. Yes, base schools are scattered around the eastern US and overseas. However, they all follow one set of policy and procedures. They all align to one curriculum and use the same materials.
What’s happening in 4th grade in Okinawa will look very similar to what’s happening in 4th grade on Camp Lejeune.
One of the biggest issues for military families is moving frequently, causing disruption in educational continuity. Families are frustrated navigating multiple state laws and school system policies just to educate their children from kindergarten to senior year. Staying within the DoDEA system takes some of the hassle out of schooling.
Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey. You can find Meg on Facebook. Meg is also available as a freelance writer and personal education advocate!