Older students at Aviano to go back to virtual learning as coronavirus spreads

Students enter Aviano Middle High School at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Nov. 16, 2020, for what was to be their last day of in-person instruction before they return to virtual classes because of the coronavirus. The return to at-home learning came as the region in Italy that includes Aviano was raised to the second-highest health alert level as the virus continues to spread.


By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 16, 2020

Stars and Stripes is making stories on the coronavirus pandemic available free of charge. See other free reports here. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here. Please support our journalism with a subscription.

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Middle and high school students at Aviano Air Base will return to virtual learning this week after the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region that houses the base went to the second highest threat level for the coronavirus.

Monday would be the final day of in-person classes before virtual learning resumes Thursday, officials told Aviano Middle High School parents over the weekend.

But there were no confirmed cases of students or faculty testing positive for the coronavirus, officials said.

No decision has been made on how long virtual learning will last, Maj. Sarah Babcock, spokeswoman for the 31st Fighter Wing, said Monday.

In-person classes will continue at the base’s elementary school, and the child development center will remain open, officials said.

Italian high schools in Friuli closed their classrooms weeks ago, but since the base school generally has smaller class sizes, its own transportation system and an array of safety precautions in place, Aviano middle and high schoolers continued to attend classes in person.

The return to virtual learning came roughly three months into the new school year. All DODEA schools in Italy went to online classes in the spring when the country was hit hard by the first wave of the coronavirus, but classrooms reopened in late August under an array of safety precautions.

“We’re going to always try to do everything we can to keep our schools open, balanced with the health of our students, faculty and everyone else here on base,” Babcock said.

While Italian officials have directed only high schools to shutter and return to virtual learning, Aviano opted to return middle schoolers to at-home learning because 44% of teachers at the base school work with middle and high school students, principal Kenneth Harvey said.

Officials would determine if other facilities would also need to close or adjust due to the latest regional and national decrees. A virtual town hall was scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday.

Details were also being discussed on how going back to learning at home would impact military parents and their units.

“Squadron commanders are going to look at how best to take care of their airmen and their families,” Babcock said. “It’s going to be undeniably challenging for some people.”

Navy bases in Naples and Sigonella closed all of their schools and day care centers earlier this month, citing an increase in positive cases on base and off. The Campania region, which includes Naples, is at the highest health threat level, while the Sicily region, which includes Sigonella, is at the second highest level.

Veneto, which includes Vicenza, was at the second lowest level Monday.

Italy had 712,490 confirmed active cases of coronavirus as of Monday out of a total of 1,178,529 cases since the virus was first detected in the country in late January. More than 88,000 of the active cases were in Campania, 61,506 in Veneto, nearly 29,000 in Sicily and 9,927 in Friuli.

Twitter: @kharris4stripes