Just eight days after the London Central Elementary School/High School opened its doors for classes, Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe officials announced Tuesday it will close for good at the end of the school year.

Citing declining enrollment numbers, military officials signed paperwork Tuesday to authorize the closure of the newly merged K-through-12 school at the end of the 2006-2007 academic year, said Linda Curtis, DODDS-Europe deputy director.

The decision came just five days after a memo was sent out, warning parents that changes at the school were likely and advising them to register with the Non-DOD Schools Program, which can enable students to receive up to about $40,000 annually to attend local private schools. The memo also laid out options for British and home-schooling options and announced the school has hired a new “transition specialist” to help parents decide where to send their kids next fall.

The school plans to hold a community meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the upcoming changes, London Central principal Theresa Barba said. The meeting is scheduled to take place at the high school music building.

Student numbers at U.S. schools in the London area have been in decline for years due to the drawdown of Navy forces in the United Kingdom. In the spring, officials closed the West Ruislip Elementary School, merging it with the high school at RAF Daws Hill.

Then, over the summer officials announced London Central High School would close the residential portion of the school. London Central is an irregular DODDS facility because it functions partly like a boarding school, with on-campus dorms intended for use by U.S.-sponsored students whose parents live in an area where there are no local DODDS high schools.

This year, enrollment at the combined London Central Elementary School/High School fell to about 275 students, with about 55 staff members, Barba said. About 160 of those students are enrolled in grades 9-12, and about 80 of those live in the on-campus dorms, she said.

According to the memo sent to parents, children in kindergarten through fifth grade have the option to enroll in a local public British school, a private day school or a home-schooling program. In all three cases, parents can receive supplemental funding to help cover the costs of schools.

The situation is slightly more complicated for high school students, especially would-be seniors, who will have to find schools offering the equivalent of a U.S.-based program, Curtis said. If no local programs are available, students can receive up to about $40,000 per year to attend private British schools or a boarding school somewhere else in the theater.

That kind of benefit may be a boon to students from RAFs Croughton and Fairford, who traditionally bus to London Central each day for school — a journey of about an hour from Croughton and more than 90 minutes from Fairford.

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