Illinois bill would streamline transition for students in military families

By BRIAN BRUEGGEMANN | Belleville News-Democrat | Published: April 20, 2014

A bill passed by the Illinois House would make it easier for children of military personnel to transfer into Illinois schools.

House Bill 3939, which is supported by Scott Air Force Base, passed the House last week by a vote of 100-1 and now goes to the Senate. It was crafted by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon and sponsored by state Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis.

Simon says the hassles of school transfers are a top concern for military personnel who have children.

In 2010, Illinois joined the Interstate Compact for Military Children and adopted a law covering school transfers for military children. In the 45 other Compact states, military students enter the same grade level at their new schools, retain previously earned credit and are offered opportunities for extracurricular activities. Illinois' law does not currently offer the same assurances.

"What we're doing is making our law more complete, making sure our law lines up with that interstate compact," Simon said.

She added: "We want to make sure these students are prioritized and transition smoothly into their new classes. It's right for our kids and important for keeping defense jobs in the state of Illinois."

Jackson, whose district covers the Air Force base area, said "the children of those who serve deserve to have an equal opportunity to participate in school sports and activities, and should not miss out on core curriculum."

Mascoutah schools superintendent Craig Fiegel said his district has a high volume of transfers of military students because of the Air Force base.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, we're able to meet their needs," Fiegel said. He said the legislation "doesn't sound like it's anything much different than what we do currently" in the Mascoutah district.

Simon said Mascoutah and many other school districts do a good job of accommodating the moves of military students, but military families need "assurances that all of the school districts are going to do that."

According to Simon, children in military families move from one school to another an average of nine times.

Simon serves as chairwoman of a state committee whose goal is to keep military bases in Illinois. She said she conducted a series of "listening posts" last year at Scott and other military bases, during which families and military leaders "consistently raised the issue of improving school transition."

The legislation would require Illinois schools to enroll the children of active-duty military personnel who move to Illinois at the same grade level they were enrolled in at their previous school.

The measure also would allow the parents to use unofficial records from the previous school to speed up the admission process at the Illinois school until official records are available.

The legislation also addresses placement of the students in special types of courses, such as Advanced Placement classes, when the student transfers mid-school year. It states that the receiving school "shall initially honor placement of the student in educational courses based on the student's enrollment in the school in the sending state ... if the courses are offered and space is available."

It also states, "Continuing the student's academic program from the school in the sending state and promoting placement in academically and career-challenging courses must be paramount when considering placement."

The bill also addresses extracurricular activities. It states that schools "shall facilitate the opportunity for transitioning military children's inclusion in extracurricular activities, to the extent the children are otherwise qualified and space is available."


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