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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A new enrollment policy at overseas military schools will guarantee classroom space for children of federal contractors and a group of full-time civilian workers who, in the past, were able to attend school only on a “space available” status, according to Pacific school officials.

The policy change also could make it harder for the children of servicemembers on “unaccompanied tours” — overseas military assignments that don’t include money to relocate and house a family — to find a seat in classrooms, officials said. (See list of enrollment priorities at end of story.)

The biggest change allows full-time civilian families who don’t have full moving and housing benefits to leapfrog over the families of some servicemembers and Department of State employees, according to Warren Tobin, the chief of staff for the Department of Defense Dependents School in South Korea.

“Before, the military kids (on unaccompanied tours) were higher on the wait list,” he said. Because so many families will be bumped to a higher category, the servicemembers “now will be lower.”

In most cases, all students will be enrolled, according to Charles Steitz, a DODDS-Pacific spokesman. The policy is expected to become final this summer, Tobin said.

But that may prove a challenge for DODDS’ South Korea schools where overcrowding has been a recent problem, Tobin acknowledged.

Two years ago, an influx of military families pushed contractors’ children out of two schools, leaving officials scrambling to set up temporary classrooms. At the same time, the contracting community is growing while more and more soldiers at the Army-dominated bases here are staying longer than the traditional one-year tour, thanks to a popular bonus incentive program, according to Tobin.

And the entire military community in South Korea is preparing to centralize at expanded bases south of Seoul, a challenge that involves closing bases and schools and relocating families to locations in the process of growing, Tobin said.

Tobin is optimistic, but cautious, about implementing the new policy. The school system has a plan in place to bring in more teachers should enrollment expand, Tobin said. The real problem is space, he said.

A few more than 4,200 students were enrolled at the start of the school year. To accommodate those students, four temporary classrooms went up at Osan American High School and six at Camp Humphreys American Elementary School, both in Pyeongtaek. There are another four in Daegu, Tobin said.

Additionally, the Seoul American Elementary School at Yongsan, the military’s headquarters in South Korea, is at full capacity and has special permission to have larger classrooms because a building expansion was canceled, he said.

Despite the temporary rooms, every child who registered got in, Tobin said. That includes the 344 students who started out on a wait list. Of those, 220 were from military families and 124 were civilians. Currently, there are 19 students on a wait list, he said.

Under the new policy, those 124 civilian students will be guaranteed a space, Tobin said. “If we get more people than we have more seats, we’ll get more seats,” he said.

He said he thinks that enrollment shouldn’t be a problem next year, even for those stuck in the “space available” category. He’s basing next fall’s enrollment on 4,090, which takes into account the actual enrollment at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, and the closing of Busan schools.

But there are no guarantees, especially for the children of soldiers on unaccompanied tours, he stressed. “There is a risk,” he said.

A look at classroom space prioritiesThe Department of Defense Education Activity, which overseas Department of Defense Dependents Schools, is changing its enrollment system. While the change has not officially taken place, schools have been notified to prepare for the next school year.

In this list, priority is given to the families in lower numbers; hence, Category I has priority over Category II, etc.

Here’s a look at the current and new enrollment priorities:

Category I

Current policy

Accompanied military

Civilian workers with full housing and transportation agreements

New policy

Accompanied military

Civilian workers with full housing and transportation agreements

Federal Department of Defense contractors*

Full-time civilian workers (including non-appropriated and appropriated workers and local hires) who don’t have full housing and transportation agreements

Category II

Current policy

Federal Department of Defense contractors*

State Department workers*

New policy

State Department workers*

Category III

Current policy

Unaccompanied military

Full-time civilian workers (including non-appropriated and appropriated workers and local hired) who don’t have full housing and transportation agreements

New policy

Unaccompanied military

Category IV

Current policy

Other Americans and foreign nationals living in the area (such as families of other foreign embassies)*

New policy

Other Americans and foreign nationals living in the area (such as families of other foreign embassies)*

*These families pay tuition, which in South Korea ranges from $14,000 to $16,000 a year.

Source: DODDS-Korea

It's better to pre-register

To help ensure a spot in next year’s school year, school officials ask that families pre-register their children this spring. This applies for all families, even those who are guaranteed slots and already are in the school system.

Contact your local school for pre-registration dates.

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