House Bill 262 would give families more flexibility in finding schools closer to home.

A legislative proposal would give military families more flexibility in choosing schools for their children.

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When children move to Hawaii with military parents, who are under direct orders, the state Department of Education requires those children to attend schools in the district in which they initially reside, even if they are staying at temporary housing or a lodging address. 

When a military family finds permanent housing, though, the kids do not automatically join the school closest to them in their district. Such accommodation for military families, which is the focus of House Bill 262, aims to match the lead of 35 other states that do allow for such flexibility for families when moving to military installations in other places.

This bill will allow an “uninterrupted educational progress and smooth transition into their new communities and relieve unneeded stress during their transition between locations,” Kelli May Douglas, the Pacific and Southwest regional liaison of the Department of Defense State Liaison Office, said in written testimony.

Radford High School.  22 july 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Military families relocating to Hawaii could have an easier time finding schools for their children under House Bill 262. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015)

But DOE Superintendent Keith Hayashi opposed this idea and considers the flexibility more disruptive to the schools than the students. 

“The exception to attend an out-of-service-area school for students of military families entering the public school system in Hawaii may place undue burdens on schools,” Hayashi wrote in public testimony to the bill. “Increased, unplanned enrollment at out-of-service-area schools may lead to overcrowding, increased class size, and strain on school resources.”

Hayashi added that the state’s educational system has to collaborate with a vast military community, including more than 14,000 dependent children in Hawaii.

This makes the issue a large one for the state but also a small and personalized one for each family. Servicemembers may get their official military orders on short notice.

Exceptions to the DOE zoning order include students enrolled in a Hawaiian Language education program, charter school or a career or technical school. Students who have requested and been approved for a geographic exception by the DOE may also move schools. DOE policy and federal law also make other exceptions.

The bill to include military dependents in these exceptions would mean schools would have to accept applications for school enrollment and registration for courses in the child’s intended permanent school zone within five days of receiving official military orders. Families would need to provide proof of purchase or lease of a dwelling within the school district, pending or current temporary occupancy of a dwelling, or the waitlist status of a dwelling that they intend to reside in.

The House Education Committee passed HB 262 on Feb. 16, teeing it up for a vote by the full 51-member House. If it passes that, it would need to be considered by the Senate.

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