No cuts for DODEA teachers in Bahrain, decision pending for others

A video screen grab of DODEA's Bahrain School show an educator interacting with students.



About 70 teachers from Defense Department schools in Bahrain will be excluded from civilian furloughs, but it’s still uncertain whether the rest of DODEA’s thousands of educators across the globe will receive furlough notices.

Department of Defense Education Activity teachers working in Bahrain won’t be furloughed because the IRS tax code defines the tiny nation as being in a “combat zone,” DODEA Director Marilee Fitzgerald told school officials in a memo dated March 15.

“This is great news for our students, families and employees in Bahrain,” Fitzgerald wrote.

Meanwhile, the rest of the department’s staff still face the possibility of losing up to 20 percent of their work hours, since the Pentagon has yet to rule on a request from Fitzgerald that its school-level employees, including educators, be exempt from mandatory Defense Department civilian furloughs, according to the director of the Federal Education Association, the union representing DODEA teachers.

“The Pentagon has still not responded to her request,” Michael Priser said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. “We were expecting a formal notice [of decision] on Friday and it did not come, and now we’re just waiting.

“At this point, all other schools are still under the threat of furlough of up to 22 days,” Priser said.

Like most other DOD entities, DODEA is struggling with massive automatic cuts to funding this fiscal year as part of a sequestration plan.

Earlier this month, DODEA Japan District superintendent Lois Rapp told parents that a plan to deal with the budget squeeze was under review. So far, any plans have not been made public, leading some to speculate that teachers might be spared the furloughs that are to be forced on many other DOD civilians.

During a recent Yokota High School meeting, some teachers noted that they were deemed “mission-essential personnel” so that schools in Japan could stay open during Operation Tomodachi, when many Americans left the country following the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.

So, wouldn’t they be considered mission-essential now, some wondered. No, according to Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, DOD spokesperson for personnel and readiness.

“DoDEA teachers are not exempt from furloughs under sequestration,” Hull-Ryde said in an email message to Stars and Stripes.

Teachers in Bahrain are the only ones to receive an exemption so far.

“We haven’t heard that any other countries fall under the same rules,” Priser said.

Bahrain is part of the Arabian Peninsula, one of three geographic areas designated by executive order as a combat zone, according to the IRS’ website. The others are Kosovo and Afghanistan, according to the website.

The 72 educators on staff at the Bahrain School include 67 Americans and five foreign nationals, according to the school’s website. Located in Juffair, Bahrain, the school has about 710 students in kindergarten through grade 12.

DODEA has yet to announce how it will handle furloughs. Hull-Ryde did not answer a question about whether the furlough days would be taken each week or in one or more large blocks at the end or beginning of this or next school year.

In her email, she did say that the schools will not double-up on classrooms in an effort to deal with fewer staff members, and that schools would be closed on furlough days.

However, some programs will be spared. In her email, Hull-Ryde said spring sports, summer school, advanced placement exams and end-of-year and end-of-course exams will proceed as planned.

“Spring sports programs will be conducted and some events and schedules may have to be adjusted due to possible furlough days,” she said.

DODEA officials understand the anxiety that budgetary uncertainties and furlough possibilities bring to school communities, Hull-Ryde said.

“DODEA is reviewing all areas of its budget for potential savings,” she said. “The priority remains focused on mitigating the impact of sequestration on our students.”

The activity’s goal is to preserve the accreditation of its schools and ensure a quality education for its students, she said.

Priser is hopeful the silence so far on an exemption decision for DODEA educators is a sign the Pentagon “is trying to find a way out of it. Hopefully, they’re taking this time to make the right decision for our children.”