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Defense Officials Brief on Opening DODEA Schools During COVID-19

Aug. 13, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Defense Department school students in kindergarten through grade 12 will be able to attend in person, remotely or virtually during the coming school year, the director of the Department of Defense Education Activity said.

Thomas Brady was joined by Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs today at a Pentagon briefing on reopening DOD schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from DOD, along with input from local commanders and communities, the decision has been made to open some schools to students, while a number of other schools will provide instruction through remote learning, Brady said.

In remote learning, students and teachers come together at the same time online at home, where they all can interact, Brady explained. In virtual learning, students at home set their own schedules without the interactions of other students, and the curriculum is designed specifically for online learning. In both types of learning, teachers still lead the training, he said.

Of the 45 DODEA schools in the Pacific region, 19 will open remotely. Of the 64 schools in Europe and the Middle East, two will open remotely. Of the 50 schools in the United States, 25 will open remotely. These 159 DODEA schools are located in seven states, two U.S. territories and 11 nations. The student population totals about 70,000.

Five people, holding boxes, stand in front of the education center for a group photo.
Back to School
Volunteers take a moment for a group photo between handing out school supplies and backpacks at the Operation Homefront Back-to-School Brigade event to distribute school supplies at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., July 11, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Parr
VIRIN: 200711-F-IB640-1031C

However, due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, the number of schools that provide remote learning could change, Brady said.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, the school will close for up to five days while sanitation measures are taken, he said. If the school remains closed for six or more days, that would automatically trigger the shift to remote learning for the entire school.

Brady noted that DODEA schools already have successfully used remote learning. It began toward the end of the last school year, when the practice became widespread due to the severity of the pandemic.

About three weeks ago, DODEA offered parents who are unsure about or uncomfortable with letting their children attend school in person the opportunity to participate in the virtual school for a semester, Brady said. About 10% of the teachers agreed to provide this training and have received professional guidance on how to successfully deliver virtual education, he added.

A masked woman, holding papers, talks to a driver in a car.
School Drive
Bree Koumparakis, wife of Marine Corps Col. Speros Koumparakis, the commanding officer of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, greets a dog during the Mokapu Elementary School drive-thru pick-up, July 28, 2020. In prior years, Mokapu Elementary held a “Back to School” event in which families pick up information about the beginning of the school year and meet their teachers, but this year, for the safety and well-being of students, families and staff, the school held a drive-thru pick up.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Samantha Sanchez
VIRIN: 200728-M-SS016-0007

Students enrolled in the virtual school number 4,330 in the U.S., 3,184 in Europe/Middle East and 2,158 in the Pacific, he said.

Educators agree that "the best education is face-to-face in the classroom with social interactions," Brady said. Therefore, the priority is to safely open as many classrooms as possible, Some will open as early as next week.

Brady said that a number of measures have been taken to ensure safe openings of DODEA schools. Among them are face masks, antiseptics, access to sinks for hand washing, social distancing, adequate safe space measures and special training for custodial personnel in effective sanitation procedures, he said.