Special education services in military DoDEA schools

By Amanda Morin

At a glance

  • The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) runs schools worldwide for kids in military families.

  • Special education services in DoDEA schools aren’t that different from those in regular public schools.

  • There are military programs that can support families of kids with learning and thinking differences.

If you or your spouse is in the military and you have a child with learning and thinking differences, it’s important to understand how works for military families.

Most kids in active-duty military families go to traditional public schools. They have all of the laws and protections that all kids in public education have. But some kids in military families go to schools run by the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA). The special education process and services in those schools may not be the same as in public schools. Here’s what you need to know.

Special education and DoDEA schools

DoDEA operates schools in foreign countries, seven states, Guam, and Puerto Rico. All of them offer special education services.

The process of determining if your child needs services is basically the same as in public schools. Your child will go through the evaluation process. Then a team of people, including you, will sit down to determine if your child is eligible for special education. Others on the team include:

In public schools, this is called the IEP team. In DoDEA schools, this team is called a Case Study Committee. It serves the same role — only the name is different. If your child is found eligible, you’ll create an (IEP) for your child, just like you would in public school.

There are some differences in DoDEA schools, however. For instance:

  • Families must enroll in the military’s Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). It’s a program for service members who have a family member with a disability. (But not if your child’s IEP is provided in a public school.) One purpose of enrolling is to make sure that the military considers your child’s needs when making assignments. EFMP also has family centers. They’re a good place to find out about community programs, support groups and medical care.
  • DoDEA uses the same IEP form in all its schools. In public schools, forms vary from state to state. A standard form makes it easier to transfer services if your family has to relocate to another DoDEA school on a different base.
  • Military families use a centralized system to keep track of information and records. That allows you to get to your information no matter where you are or which DoDEA school your child is going to.
  • The (FERPA) doesn’t apply to DoDEA school records. It only applies to schools that get funding from the Department of Education. FERPA protects the privacy of student records. It also gives parents the right to inspect and review them.
  • The civil rights law, Section 504, isn’t valid in foreign countries. A provides some services and for kids who need support but who don’t need special education services. DoDEA has an Accommodations Plan instead. The plan is comparable to a 504 plan.

Transfers and special education for military families

There are challenges that come with raising kids with learning and thinking differences in the military. Moving frequently accounts for many of them. These challenges are not unlike the ones any other family who has a child with an IEP faces when switching schools.

A new school is required to provide “comparable services” when a child with an IEP transfers in. Just like with other schools, “comparable services” doesn’t mean exactly the same. But they must be similar to what’s in your child’s current IEP.

If your child is moving to a DoDEA school from a public school, the DoDEA has 30 days to either re-evaluate your child or adopt the current IEP. In the meantime, it must provide those comparable services.

The situation is similar if your child transfers from one DoDEA school to another. The new school has 30 days to either adopt the current IEP or to create a new one. It must provide comparable services in the meantime.

Support for military families

The Defense Department’s Office of Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs provides help to families who have members with special needs.

The office makes it easier to get information and services. It also makes sure that:

  • Families are assigned to areas where appropriate services are available. Once assigned, they won’t be reassigned for at least four years.
  • Case managers provide support for families enrolled in the EFMP. They can attend meetings. They can also help get information about services when families move to new communities.
  • IEPs and timely evaluations are provided.

The military encourages parents to be part of the special education process. Most parents also receive time off to attend meetings. For more information, explore tips to help military families navigate the special education process.

Key takeaways

  • Service members who have a family member with a disability must enroll in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP).

  • There are differences in special education in DoDEA schools, but they’re mostly procedural. Your child’s needs will be addressed in the classroom just as in a public school.

  • It’s important to be aware of and advocate for your child’s education needs, especially if your family is being relocated.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days. 

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Kylah Torre is an instructor in the department of special education at Hunter College.