Many Japanese workers at MCAS Iwakuni keep children home from school to stem coronavirus
By JAMES BOLINGER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 19, 2020
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MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — Some Japanese children whose parents work on the air station are staying home from local schools at the request of Marine Corps authorities trying to stem the spread of coronavirus.
The Mainichi, a Japanese newspaper, on Tuesday reported 55 children whose parents have a connection with the air station were absent from Iwakuni public schools Friday.
Elementary and junior high schools in Yamaguchi prefecture in western Japan, where MCAS Iwakuni is located, re-opened May 7. Schools in Japan closed due to coronavirus concerns in early March.
The base commander, Col. Lance Lewis, in March required all personnel subject to the status of forces agreement with Japan, or SOFA, to keep their children home from local schools.
However, he could not order Japanese civilian employees not subject to SOFA to keep their children out of local schools. Instead, those employees were asked to do so to curb the virus’ spread, base spokesman 1st Lt. Phillip Parker said in an email Tuesday.
Because parents who send their children to school are not allowed to travel to their jobs on base, they have been offered other options, including telework or paid administrative leave, Parker said.
The Iwakuni school board assured base authorities that children who stay home from school at Lewis’ request will not be penalized, Parker said.
Although the Defense Department runs its own school system overseas, some U.S. service members and Defense Department civilian employees also send their children to Japanese schools. The number of U.S. students absent from local Japanese schools was unavailable Tuesday.
Defense Department schools in Japan, including those at Iwakuni, are closed for the remainder of the school year and their students are continuing their studies online.