Italian schools to close until September as DODEA mulls decision for its schools in Europe

Students in class at Kaiserslautern High School in Germany, Feb. 22, 2019. Department of Defense Education Activity schools in Europe have been closed for more than a month due to the coronavirus pandemic. Officials are determining whether to reopen the schools or continue with digital learning for the rest of the school year.



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VICENZA, Italy — Italian schools won’t reopen until September, a decision that could impact U.S. bases in the country, as military officials determine whether to recommend online instruction for the remainder of the school year in Europe.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the decision during a televised address Monday, along with relaxed coronavirus response measures throughout the country that would allow freedom of movement within regions, restaurant takeout service and parks to reopen beginning May 4.

Although no decisions have been made yet on whether to physically reopen Department of Defense Education Activity schools in Europe this school year, U.S. Army Garrison Italy’s schools and child care centers closed when the Italians shuttered theirs Feb. 24.

Michelle Howard-Brahaney, superintendent of DODEA Europe’s south district, said Friday in a video posted on Facebook that they would “work closely with our host nation and our military commands about the status of our schools.”

She said officials were developing plans for high school graduation, possibly virtual, and plans for collecting textbooks and computers from students in case schools don’t reopen.

In Germany, the commander of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base said Monday he’s doesn’t expect DODEA schools in Europe to reopen this school year.

DODEA leaders in Europe sought recommendations from commanders of installations that host schools on “what is the best decision we can make,” Brig. Gen. Mark August said during a virtual town hall meeting.

“For me, I think it’s more prudent to keep our kids at home in a virtual environment than it is to get them back into the classroom, which would be a short amount of time,” he said.

The last day of school for students is June 9 for DODEA Europe, but there is discussion on whether the year should end sooner, August said.

Germany said it would begin to reopen schools on a limited basis May 4, with emphasis on graduating classes and the oldest primary school children. But that plan, which calls for small class sizes and social distancing, has been criticized as unrealistic by some teachers.

Meanwhile, a MoveOn.org petition is circulating to give DODEA parents in Europe the option of withdrawing their children for the year with full credit on May 12.

Typically, only families leaving their station are allowed to withdraw their children 30 days before the end of the school year with a passing grade.

Jennifer Alexander, an Air Force spouse who organized the petition, lives in the Kaiserslautern area and has found it difficult to help her first grader while also looking after her preschooler.

“When I attempt to split my attention and care for or entertain my preschooler, my older son gets distracted and will not stay on task,” she said Monday. “Every day is a struggle for us.”

Alexander’s petition had just over 300 signatures as of Monday morning. She’s hoping to gather 1,000 signatures before submitting her petition to DODEA leadership on Friday.


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