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In an about-face that leaves children and parents in a temporary limbo, Navy and military school officials announced that the closing date of the elementary school in Gaeta, Italy, is up for discussion.

It could be at least another three months before parents know for sure if this will be the school’s last year, officials said.

“The Navy agreed to allow additional input from parents into the closure date,” David Ruderman, a spokesman with Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe, said Tuesday.

The decision on whether to close the school has not been made, said Capt. Floyd Hehe, Naval Support Activity Naples’ commander. Falling short of calling the issuance of the Oct. 16 letter premature, Hehe said, “Our intent was to start a dialogue. We had to put a stake down somewhere. … We want to take this opportunity to have a thorough review of the situation.

“We want the families to know they have a part in developing the educational plan for their children.”

The announcement came Monday afternoon during a town hall, held in Gaeta “for Navy employees, military members, and their families to discuss schooling options for their children,” according to a press statement released by Navy Region Europe public affairs.

It was hosted by Hehe and Capt. Joe Kusmick, commander of the 6th Fleet’s flagship, the USS Mount Whitney, based in Gaeta.

Parents reportedly received a letter dated Oct. 16 stating the elementary school would close at the end of the 2006-2007 school year.

“The letter is temporarily suspended … and our folks are working with the Navy and studying all data and input,” Ruderman said.

A newly formed committee, which officials are calling an “action team,” meets for the first time Wednesday to discuss the school’s closure time line and to solicit additional parental input, he said. A decision will be made within 90 days, Ruderman said.

Gaeta is home to about 200 military and civilian personnel. The base has been going through a drawdown, and in February, became a detachment of NSA Naples instead of its own, self-supporting command as much of the personnel shifted to the main Navy base in Naples.

Currently, the school has roughly 40 elementary pupils enrolled in kindergarten through sixth grade, with a majority of them in the younger-age classes, said Principal Richard Alix, who also serves as the principal of Naples Elementary School. There are 10 staff members working in Gaeta.

This was the first year in which the school did not offer classes to middle school-age children in grades seven and eight. Last year, the school population in kindergarten through eighth grade tallied nearly 70 pupils, a decrease from roughly 200 enrolled for the 2004-2005 school year. Middle- and high-school pupils are bused to Naples High School, a 1½-hour drive from Gaeta.

In addition to parents, committee members include the detachment’s department head, the ombudsman from the Mount Whitney, the Master Chief Petty Officer for Naval Forces Europe, DODDS-Europe leadership and teacher unions’ representatives.


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