SEOUL — Children of non-command-sponsored troops might not be able to attend Department of Defense Dependents schools in Seoul next year due to a lack of space, as more servicemembers bring their families to South Korea.

The space crunch could affect 60 or more students in Seoul, based on current and projected enrollment figures. Students in DODDS schools in Pyeongtaek, Daegu and Chinhae are not expected to be affected by the overcrowding, acting South Korea superintendent Doug Kelsey said.

"We have plenty of capacity in those communities," he said.

Under a new policy announced by U.S. Forces Korea in December, about half of the 28,500 billets for U.S. troops in South Korea will eventually be command-sponsored. The first wave of families moving to South Korea under the new policy arrives this summer, and the number of command-sponsored slots is expected to roughly double to 4,320 by the end of fiscal year 2010.

The increase in families is expected to swell the number of students in schools. That means the children of non-command-sponsored troops, who are granted slots on a space-available basis, could get bumped out of DODDS schools.

Those children would have to return to the States, attend a private international school or be home-schooled. Tuition at international schools in Seoul can cost $14,000 a year or more.

Some troops without command sponsorship have paid out of their own pockets to move their families to South Korea during their tours, rather than be separated. U.S. Forces Korea officials say those troops should apply for command sponsorship now to guarantee their children are able to enroll this fall.

"We realize the uncertainty of not knowing if your space available student will be enrolled is disconcerting. However, we believe it is preferable to be very clear now than to disappoint you next fall," U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Walter Sharp wrote in a "Sharp Point" message posted on the command’s Web site Monday afternoon.

DODDS schools in South Korea had a peak enrollment of 4,174 students in April. DODDS estimates that 4,310 students will enroll for the 2009-10 school year, although Col. Pete Ellis, USFK’s assistant chief of staff for personnel and manpower, called it a "pretty soft" estimate and said DODDS may not have to turn away students.

"This really is precautionary," he said. "We want to be better safe than sorry."

DODDS students are ranked in four categories, based on whether their parents are active-duty military and what connection, if any, their parents have to the U.S. military and government.

Students in categories 1 and 2, which include dependents of command-sponsored active-duty military and DOD civilians, will not be affected by the change and are guaranteed slots.

Students in categories 3 and 4, which include the families of non-command-sponsored troops, are considered "space available" and will be placed on a waiting list.

Enrollment for those students will be decided in three phases, according to the Sharp Point:

1. Aug. 24-27, students on the waiting list will be enrolled in grades where space is available. Some slots will be kept open for late-arriving children of command-sponsored military personnel, DOD civilians and federal employees. Students must report within five working days or move to the bottom of the list. School begins on Aug. 31.

2. Sept. 14-18, the next group of students will be enrolled up to the capacity of each grade level.

3. After Sept. 30, students on the waiting list will be admitted as space becomes available. A few slots will be kept open to accommodate incoming command-sponsored students.

In Seoul, there were 56 Category 3 students and six Category 4 students last year. Peninsula-wide, there were 157 Category 3 students and 24 Category 4 students, Kelsey said.

Ellis said USFK is "springloaded to say yes" to requests for command sponsorship.

It takes 12 to 20 days to process requests for command sponsorship, which should be made through unit commanders. Denials of command sponsorship are reviewed by an O-6, Ellis said.

DODDS-Korea last turned away students because of lack of space in 1999. The district told parents in 2004 that it might have to do so that year, but did not end up turning any students away.

Kelsey said overcrowding will be a problem in Seoul for the next year or two, until troops from Area I and Yongsan begin relocating to Camp Humphreys. That relocation is scheduled to take place by 2012, but South Korean and U.S. officials have discussed delaying the move due to budget increases and construction delays at Humphreys.

There are no DODDS schools in Area I, where only a handful of servicemembers had been granted command sponsorships. Kelsey said officials have discussed building a school at Camp Red Cloud or Camp Casey, though no decisions have been made or are pending, he said.

DODDS pays tuition for command-sponsored students in Area I to attend international schools in Uijeongbu or Dongducheon, and reimburses families there for home-school expenses. Students can also take "virtual school" classes.

Six new classrooms are under construction in Seoul, and are expected to open by the beginning of the school year. Six new classrooms also were built the previous year.

Classifications of students

Category 1:Dependents of command-sponsored U.S. servicemembers, Department of Defense, Army and Air Force civilians, and some invited contractors

Category 2:Dependents of U.S. State Department and other federal employees

Category 3:Non-command-sponsored dependents of U.S. military personnel

Category 4:Tuition-paying dependents of private U.S. citizens, retired U.S. military, and foreign citizens

Students in Categories 3 and 4 will be placed on a wait list for the 2009-10 school year. Priority for the wait list will be:

1.Returning Category 3 students of military sponsors

2.New Category 3 students of military sponsors assigned to an area on the sponsor’s orders

3.Returning Category 3 students of civilian sponsors

4.New Category 3 students of civilian sponsors

5.Returning Category 4 students

6.New Category 4 students

Source: June 8, 2009, letter to parents from acting South Korea superintendent Doug Kelsey

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