YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – Students who have left Japan can continue to communicate with their base teachers, but should also either enroll in a domestic school or “virtual school,” the Department of Defense Education Activity’s acting director said Monday.

Although many teachers at base schools in Japan are providing online classwork to students who left the country following the March 11 earthquake, the quality of what they are providing varies, audience members said during a town hall meeting here with Marilee Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald encouraged continued interaction between base teachers and students who have left, but said it should not be relied upon because of the uncertainty of the amount of time that the students will be gone.

“Many of our teachers are not accustomed to teaching online,” Fitzgerald said. “It takes a special skill to do that kind of work.”

“I would say to you, put them in the hands of the experts. Either enroll them in the DODEA virtual high school or get them into regular school.”

The virtual school is available for high school students only, according to the school website.

Family members who left under the military assisted “voluntary departure” program have been instructed not to return to Japan under the status of forces agreement until the military declares an “all clear” status.

Fitzgerald, along with Pacific director Diana Ohman, answered questions from an audience of about 150 people Tuesday night, after holding a similar town hall meeting Monday at Yokota Air Base. Fitzgerald was to hold another meeting Wednesday evening at Camp Zama.

Schools are working to reschedule some canceled extracurricular events and hold track, softball, baseball and soccer games outside of the Tokyo area. They are also trying to find new sports coaches and referees, Ohman said.

“We cannot have any of our events on the Kanto plain because of the stop movement order,” Ohman said. “We can’t bring kids in here. So we’re going to try to find places not in the Kanto plain to have them.”

Separate employee-only meetings were held prior to the public meetings at the bases. Fitzgerald told Stars and Stripes following the Yokosuka town hall meeting that she talked with teachers about the inconsistent messages they received two weeks ago in the run-up to the voluntary departure program.

Teachers were first told they could evacuate on March 17, only to be told the next day that they were emergency-essential employees and required to stay.

“One of the things we're going to have to examine, in my view, at the end of this is our communication and the timeliness of it,” Fitzgerald said.

“An important mitigator, I think, that helps people through vague and uncertain times is that they have a high degree of trust, so what they get they know they can rely on,” she said. “And when we issue something that’s a few days late, and then we have to correct it … we just heighten the anxiety and everybody then is left to make an explanation for it.”

Fitzgerald pointed to the DoDEA official website and Facebook page as places where students and teachers should now be able to get up-to-date information.

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