“It was heartbreaking to say the least,” said the 18-year-old, who said he wants to follow a family tradition of joining the service and become a military policeman. He is set to graduate from the Connections Academy in Columbia in June, one of South Carolina’s five virtual public charter schools.

Dennis’s mother, Alice, said she sought out the virtual high school after her son was barred from returning to his public school on a weapons violation. He left a pocket knife in his jacket, violating the school system’s zero-tolerance policy. They sought an alternative where Jared could continue with honors-level classes, she said.

In California, 19-year-old Mandi Jenkins of Long Beach said she gave up trying to join the military after graduating last year from Connections Academy in San Clemente. The message she got was the same as that given to Dennis: Go get some college credit.

Attending an online cyber school fit Jenkins’ schedule because she played competitive tennis. Now, she is thinking of becoming a professional tennis player instead of donning an Army uniform. Heeding her experience, Jenkins said her 17-year-old brother is staying in his local traditional high school because he wants to join the Marine Corps.

Jenkins said she’s upset with the idea that students with a cyber-education are considered less capable of fitting in or following commands.

“You still have to get your work in, you have to turn it in on time,” she said.

One student who was able to get the military’s attention is 20-year-old Greg Bush, who is attending Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, on a four-year Army ROTC scholarship.

The Delaware, Ohio, native said he thinks attending Ohio’s Virtual Academy was a plus, both academically and socially. He was able to take Advanced Placement courses in English and literature and was able to feed an interest in military history and earned a 3.7 grade point average.

“I was a very introverted person, and doing so much course work online drove me to reach out” to make friendships, he said. “It really benefited me.”