OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — Children of civilian contractors and other nonactive-duty parents may find themselves shut out of Defense Department schools in central South Korea this year because of an influx of active-duty families who have first priority for classroom seats, school officials said.

About 45 students at Osan American High School and about 35 at the Camp Humphreys Elementary School may be affected, said officials at Department of Defense Dependents Schools Korea district. And parents fear the problem will get worse as the U.S. military expands the two bases to accommodate the closure of other installations.

DODDS officials said the students are being placed on waiting lists and that students can enroll if vacancies occur. If not, parents will have to look outside the DODDS system, perhaps turning to international schools or to home-schooling, the officials said.

“Other than that, it’s a sad situation, really difficult for the kids and their parents, because we’re not in the United States where there’s another school a couple of miles away,” said Dennis Rozzi, assistant superintendent of DODDS Korea.

“I’m looking in the face of children who’ve been in this school system their whole life and saying ‘Sorry, you cannot come,’” said Carol Czerw, Osan American High School principal. “It’s killing me. It personally breaks my heart. I’d like to take them all, and if I had space for them, we would take them.”

Both schools are in the Pyongtaek region about 40 miles south of Seoul, in an area the U.S. military plans to transform into a major hub for U.S. forces in the coming years.

Though Yongsan Garrison won’t close until 2008, school officials say they’re feeling the crunch now.

The military already has millions of dollars in construction projects under way at the two installations, and the South Korean government last week announced plans to acquire some 3,000 acres of land that will allow the two installations to expand.

The two schools this year face an increase in the number of students in what DODDS calls “Category 1” — those whose parents are active-duty military personnel or Defense Department civilians, Rozzi said.

“The situation is that both Humphreys and the Osan American High School have reached enrollment capacity by us enrolling only Category 1 students,” Rozzi said. “In other words, the schools are filled up with Category 1 students. So that doesn’t leave room for Category 2, 3 or 4 students, and last year we had room for most of those students,” he said.

Category 2 students are those whose sponsors are civilian contractors working with the U.S. military. They must pay tuition to attend a DODDS school, Rozzi said.

Category 3 is children of nonappropriated fund employees, or from military families without command sponsorship. They may attend a DODDS school tuition-free on a space-available basis, Rozzi said.

Category 4 is students with no connection to the U.S. military, but whose parents want to pay tuition for them to attend, Rozzi said.

“Usually in the past, we’ve always had room for Category 2s,” Rozzi said. “But this year because of a large number of Category 1 students we have enrolled in our schools, we’ve had to take a look at whether we can enroll Category 2 students. And that’s the first time that we’ve done that, and that is happening only at Humphreys and Osan,” Rozzi said.

“The best we can conjecture is that there are more command-sponsored families moving into those areas,” Rozzi said.

Of the 72 Category 2 students seeking enrollment this year at Osan American High, officials had space only for those in 10th or 12th grades, Czerw said.

“That leaves about 45 kids on the waiting list in grades 7, 8, 9 and 11,” she said.

School officials will wait until Sept. 13 to see how many of the students scheduled to enroll actually did, Czerw said.

At Camp Humphreys Elementary, some 35 students in Category 3 may be unable to attend this year, said Principal Donna Kacmarski.

Category 2 students in grades 4, 5 and 6 will be able to attend Humphreys, Kacmarski said. But Category 2 pupils in grades 1, 2 and 3 will be bused to Osan Elementary School.

“We have a waiting list of Category 3 students,” Kacmarski said. “At the present time we are looking at our names to see if we have space for them. We are going to be looking at it carefully every day [this] week and try to make a decision.”

Meanwhile, contractors eagerly are awaiting word on whether their children will be admitted to a DODDS school, said Raymond Carswell, whose son Nathan is hoping to enter eighth grade at Osan American High.

DODDS sent a letter in April advising parents of Category 2, 3 and 4 students to “make alternate plans” for schooling in case their children were displaced by any potential “increase in Category 1 enrollment.”

Nevertheless, Carswell said, he and other contractors are frustrated that word of the actual waiting lists has come so late.

“The late notification has put everybody into a bind, a very big bind,” said Carswell, who works for SRA International.

The U.S. military plans to build three new schools at Camp Humphreys and to add four classrooms and a music room at Osan American High, to keep pace with the eventual increase in troop strength in the area, Czerw said. The addition at Osan is projected for completion in 2007. But DODDS has no projections on when the three schools would open at Humphreys, Rozzi said.

“It depends on when the two governments have all their stuff ironed out, and the land has been obtained,” Rozzi added.

Carswell said he’ll keep close tabs on whether DODDS and the senior U.S. military leadership in South Korea are taking steps to avert a similar, 11th-hour enrollment crunch next school year.

“I’m going to continue to ask for information and pursue this throughout the year,” said Carswell, a retired Air Force master sergeant. “I don’t plan to let it drop. Because if you let this drop, it will be the same thing next year. I think it is imperative that this be brought up with General LaPorte,” Carswell said in a reference to Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, the top U.S. military commander in South Korea.

“If contractors make the decision that their children are impacted, and they’re not going to get a good education, they’re going to go back to the States,” Carswell said.

“They’ve got to plan for this,” he said of U.S. military authorities in South Korea. “If they don’t, it’s going to be a nightmare for the families.”

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