Bill Protecting Student Guardsmen Passes

3-1-06 - Oklahoma Guardsmen forced to miss college classes because of deployment could complete those courses at a later date without paying additional charges under legislation approved Wednesday. House Bill 2589, by State Rep. Rex Duncan, would protect Oklahoma college students who are members of the National Guard or Reserves from losing tuition or facing failing grades if they are deployed during the middle of a semester.

"I want to support our Guardsmen and Reservists," said Duncan, R-Sand Springs. "This is a small way to let them know the Legislature appreciates their service and will do whatever we can to facilitate their education while they serve." Duncan is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army National Guard and Battalion Commander of the 2/189th Regiment, a Regional Training Institute in Oklahoma City. He has served the past 26 years in either the Guard, Reserves or on active duty - including 16 months active duty in Qatar, Afghanistan, Djibouti and Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

Duncan served as a Forward Deputy Operations Officer for the Special Operations Command while overseas in 2002 and 2003. He said House Bill 2589 was filed after some Oklahoma Guardsmen/students found themselves in financial difficulty due to deployment. When Oklahoma Guardsmen were deployed to Louisiana last year to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina, Duncan said some student Guardsmen chose to go even though they were not required to participate.

"Some of the students wanted to help and that created a burden on their families because they didn't have time to withdraw from classes and they were gone for up to two months," Duncan said. Those students were gone too long to make up the work they missed and faced failing grades as a result. "They couldn't get a passing grade that semester, so they were left with nothing to show for the tuition, fees, and room-and-board expenses they had paid," Duncan said. Under House Bill 2589, any student at a state college called to active duty in the Guard or Reserve would be guaranteed a refund or credit that would apply to future semesters.

Those students would also be protected from a failing grade and given "incomplete" marks and a guarantee they can make up class work in a future semester. House Bill 2589 passed out of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee on Wednesday and now proceeds to a vote from the entire Oklahoma House of Representatives.