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Last school year, the parents of nearly 700 students had to wait until the end of summer vacation to find out whether DODDS-Europe had classroom space for their kids.

There was uncertainty this past fall, too.

It’s an annual test of nerves, one that Defense Department contractors and full-time, locally hired American employees have faced for years. Usually, things work out, though there is always a chance it won’t.

“[My wife] is always concerned about these things,” said Rob Morton, an information technician for General Dynamics. “Being a contractor, you’re kind of like a second-class citizen. But I can’t complain, because I’m well compensated.”

Still, the Department of Defense Education Activity wants to relax its eligibility requirements to make it easier for contractors and locally hired employees — appropriated and nonappropriated — to get their kid in the door. If blessed by the Defense Department, the affected students would go from “space available” to “space required” status, which is the class to be in.

The proposed change, which is working its way through DOD channels, is in recognition of the expanding role contractors and civilians play in today’s military, said Harvey R. Gerry, chief of policy for DODEA.

“The shape of the force in Europe and around the world has changed,” Gerry said. With respect to contractors, he added, “if you don’t guarantee them a spot, recruitment could be a problem” in the future.

Gerry, the former chief of staff for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools, Europe, said classroom space was starting to become an issue in Europe a few years ago. As a result, DODDS and U.S. Army Europe began evaluating the situation and ultimately decided that such a guarantee was in order. If approved, the adjustment would be implemented worldwide.

“They will be able to enroll in school without any ‘space available’ obstacles in their way,” Gerry said.

Morton and his wife have a 13-year-old son, Christopher, who attends Darmstadt Middle School. Over the years, Morton said, Darmstadt educators have always taken a great interest in accommodating his family, but he knows of colleagues in other communities that haven’t been so fortunate.

“Between 2000 and 2002, it was a sticky issue,” Morton said.

Typically, parents register their children for school in the spring and early summer. Families in the “space available” category can sign up, too, though they often have to wait until late August to get the final nod of approval.

Gerry expects the new directive to be in force this spring, barring any unforeseen problems.

Contractors would still pay tuition (appropriated and nonappropriated employees don’t), but at least they’ll know with certainty where their child will be when the school bells start ringing.

Said Morton: “It’s just another thing we won’t have to worry about.”

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