Key Policy Letters from the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
March 1, 2011
Archived Information

March 1, 2011

Dear Superintendent:

As we enter our nation’s 10th year of continuous combat operations, the stresses borne by our military families continue to grow. There are more than 1.2 million children of service men and women in our schools. Of these, more than 120,000 currently have a parent deployed to a combat zone. Many of these parents are on their second, third, or fourth deployment. Some of these children live near large military installations. But, because our armed forces rely so heavily on the activated National Guard and Reserves, students of deployed parents can live in any community across our nation and attend any school. Deployments can also affect children of military contractors and civilian government employees.

Among the many challenges for military families is the need for flexibility related to school attendance policies. When a service member is deployed to a combat zone, military families often ask schools to grant their children excused absences so the family can spend extended time together before the deployment, during mid-tour breaks, and after the military parent returns. In many cases, “time off” from duty is directed by the military units to which service members are assigned and is commonly referred to as “block leave.”

We can all appreciate the desire for families to be together during a time as stressful as the deployment of a parent. And all of us want to do whatever we can to support our military families. However, deployment-related absences can cause challenges for schools and school districts. Educators are concerned that increased absenteeism can reduce educational outcomes, and, in some cases, negatively affect a school’s adequate yearly progress (AYP) status. These concerns have made some districts reluctant to accommodate requests for deployment-related absences.Many districts, however, have developed successful ways of responding to this unique need without adversely affecting academic performance or accountability ratings. This letter provides information for school districts seeking examples of effective practices that address the needs of military families while maintaining high standards and upholding established attendance policies.

I ask that you review this information and consider putting in place a well-designed policy to provide for absences related to a parent’s deployment to combat zones.

In addition to state laws and regulations relating to attendance policies, you should be aware that there may be statewide policies on deployment-related absences. Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, and Tennessee, in particular, have such policies. And 35 states are signatories to the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children. This Interstate Compact provides, in part, that a student:

…shall be granted additional excused absences at the discretion of the LEA (local educational agency) superintendent or head of school to visit with his or her parent or legal guardian relative to such leave or deployment of the parent or guardian.  Notwithstanding the above, the LEA superintendent or head of school may provide a maximum number of additional excused absences.

Information about states that are signatories can be found in the Frequently Asked Questions section of the Interstate Compact’s Web site at The Department strongly supports the work of the Interstate Compact in addressing issues facing military children.

While state laws and policies may define the parameters of policies on deployment-related absences, LEAs are generally responsible for the specific implementation of such policies. As you consider policies concerning deployment-related absences, you may also find helpful a publication released by the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC). MCEC has worked with the military services to develop a useful guide to military child attendance issues. This publication emphasizes open communication, advance planning where possible, and flexibility to balance educational needs and family responsibilities. It also contains many examples of best practices. The publication is available at:

Finally, I attach some examples of effective attendance policies and practices for military-connected students.

I thank you for your assistance to military families as we collectively help ensure that all students receive the highest-quality education. Please share this letter with the principals, counselors, and registrars in your school district. Schools are often the most important source of focus and stability for students during deployments and family separations, and your response will be greatly appreciated by the many military families who depend on us to serve them as they serve the nation.

If you have any questions regarding the information provided in this letter, please contact Dr. Charles Boyer, our Special Advisor for Military Affairs, at 202-260-1844 or


Arne Duncan


cc: Chief State School Officers


Examples of Attendance Policies and Practices for Military-Connected Students

North Carolina.  Cumberland County Schools and other schools located near Joint Base Fort Bragg/Pope may grant up to five days of excused absences for military-connected students whose parents are experiencing a deployment.  The conditions under which the local schools may approve excused absences are:  (1) the absence is preapproved; (2) the student is in good standing; (3) the student has a prior record of good attendance; (4) missed work is completed and turned in within the school’s allotted time period; and (5) the absence is not during standardized testing dates.

California.  California state law provides districts with an opportunity to gain average daily attendance credit for a student who completes a program of independent study under the general direction of certificated personnel while the student is legitimately off campus.  The state encourages the use of this program as appropriate.  An Independent Study Agreement, often called a Master Agreement (MA), must be submitted and approved prior to the absence.  The district must have an existing board policy on independent study before any student may be assigned to this instructional delivery method.  Each MA must be discussed, signed, and dated by the parent, student, and teacher prior to commencement of studies.  Individual teachers or administrators may deny permission for a prearranged absence.  All work assigned in the MA must be completed and submitted on the due date.  Most schools require completed assignments weekly or every two weeks.  Note:  this policy was not developed specifically to address the block leave issue.  However, it can be used effectively for leave requests from military families.

Florida.  Lee County Public Schools has adopted a policy.  It permits a student whose parent or legal guardian has been called to duty for, is on leave from, or immediately returned from deployment to a combat zone or combat support posting to be granted additional excused absences at the discretion of the superintendent or designee.

Texas.  In communications to local school district administrators, the Texas Education Agency notes that:

Under the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, a school superintendent may excuse a student’s absence for the purpose of visiting with a parent or legal guardian who is an active duty member of the uniformed services and has been called to duty for, is on leave from, or immediately returned from deployment to a combat zone or combat support posting.

In addition, the Texas Association of School Boards, a nongovernmental entity, provides the following reference in its 2010-11 Model Student Handbook:

…absences related to a student visiting with his or her parent related to leave or deployment activities may be excused by the district.  The district will permit no more than __ excused absences per year for this purpose.  (Note: LEAs may specify in their policy how many excused absences are permitted.)

Last Modified: 02/16/2017