Are you or your spouse in the military? Maybe you have (or think you might have) a child with learning and attention issues. If so, it’s important to understand how special education works in the military.
For instance, you’ll want to know about the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA). Many kids in military families attend public school. But some go to schools that are operated by DoDEA. Services in DoDEA schools may differ from what’s available in public schools.
Differences Between Civilian and DoDEA Schools
DoDEA operates schools in foreign countries, seven states, Guam and Puerto Rico. All DoDEA schools are fully accredited. Special education services are available in DoDEA schools.
The process for deciding if your child is eligible (the evaluation process) is essentially the same in public schools and those run by DoDEA. However, DoDEA schools don’t use the current version of IDEA to determine whether or not a child is eligible. They use the 1997 version of the law.
If your child is found eligible, you’ll sit down with educators and others from your child’s school. Together you’ll write a plan and goals for your child. Beyond that, there are some important differences for military families.
- You must sign up for the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). The program helps military families affected by special needs. One of the purposes is to make sure that the military considers these needs when making assignments. (Military families are supposed to be located in areas where their needs can be met.) EFMP also has family centers. They’re a good place to find out about community programs, support groups and medical care.
- In public schools, the group of people making decisions about your child’s special education program is the IEP team. (IEP stands for Individualized Education Program.) In DoDEA schools, the team is called a Case Study Committee. Both teams serve the same role. Only the name is different.
- 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 base.
- Military families use a centralized system to keep track of information and records. That way, you can get to your information no matter where you are or who is taking care of your child.
- The Family Education Right to Privacy Act (FERPA) does not apply to DoDEA school records. It only applies to schools that receive funding from the Department of Education. FERPA protects the privacy of student records. It also gives parents the right to inspect and review them. DoDEA school records may have to be requested through a Freedom of Information Act request to the government.
- The civil rights law, Section 504, is not valid in foreign countries. A 504 plan provides helpful technology services and accommodations for kids who aren’t eligible for special education services, but who still need support. DoDEA has an Accommodations Plan instead. The plan is comparable to a 504 plan.
Challenges of Special Education for Military Families
There are challenges that come with raising kids with learning and attention issues in the military. Moving frequently accounts for many of them. For example, if your family is transferred while your child is being evaluated or an IEP is being written, it can delay the process.
The new school is required to provide “comparable services” when a child with an IEP transfers in. But it’s not always that simple. Services available at a DoDEA school may not be the same as in a non-DoDEA school. That means there may not be a comparable service to provide.
Support for Military Families
A recent law has been especially helpful. The 2010 National Defense Authorization Act created the Defense Department’s Office of Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs. The office streamlines information and services for families. It also makes sure that:
- Families are assigned to areas where appropriate services are available. Once assigned, families won’t be reassigned for at least four years.
- Case managers provide individualized support for families enrolled in the EFMP. They can attend meetings and help get information about services in new communities to ease the transition.
- 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.