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SEOUL — Officials with Department of Defense schools in Japan are urging parents of evacuated students to get their children back into classrooms as soon as possible in the U.S., so their educations don’t also become casualties of the crisis caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunamis.

While there is no set maximum number of school days a Department of Defense Education Activity student can miss and still move on to the next grade, officials said students who miss considerable amounts of classroom time run the risk of not meeting the various criteria required to pass.

“It is important that we get the children in school as quickly as possible,” DODEA Pacific Chief of Staff Chas Kelker said Tuesday. “Anytime you have a child in school, it’s a good thing – the learning that’s going on, the normalcy. … It’s important that they have that contact with other children.”

Ideally, parents of evacuating students brought their children’s school records with them when they left because schools in the U.S. cannot enroll new students without those records. In cases where parents left without their children’s records, DODEA is mailing and e-mailing them at the request of the students’ new schools.

Officials said there is no boilerplate formula for determining how decisions will be made about holding students back or moving them up to the next grade at the end of this school year, be they attending school in Japan or in the States.

For those who miss too much school, or fall behind their classmates, officials said there are additional projects, assignments or tests that can be given to bring them up to speed, as well as summer school, online programs and long-distance assignments given by their teachers to help them keep pace.

“It will depend on a case-by-case basis,” said Joyce Lutrey, DODEA-Pacific’s area superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment.

“I know that our families value education. I know that our families are very children-centered,” Lutrey said. “Both our schools and their receiving schools will do everything possible to ensure success for our kids.”

The number of students attending DODEA schools in Japan has almost been cut in one-half since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami -- dropping from 8,500 to 4,600 – presumably due to the number of military families who have taken advantage of the voluntary evacuation of Japan.

With about 12 weeks left in the 36-week school year, officials said parents should enroll their children in schools wherever they end up back in the U.S., have them home-schooled or – for those in grades 9-12 – enroll them in DODEA’s Virtual High School for the rest of the school year, or until they return to Japan.

Some students who have left the country, particularly those in high school, have been getting assignments long distance from their teachers in Japan.

“We are here to warmly welcome our students that show up each day in Japan, but our teachers also support students that departed until their families can make the decisions that are right for them,” DODEA Pacific spokesman Charly Hoff said.

“Each student has unique needs and our goal is to be as flexible and creative as possible until we can hand them off confidently or welcome them back to our own classrooms,” he said. “We can’t force families to re-enroll, but we can and do strongly encourage them to do so.”

While changing schools is always a challenge, no matter the reason — much less what has happened in Japan — Lutrey said, “Kids are incredibly resilient … and learning is learning. Our students are probably better than most with going to a new school because a third of our students are new annually.”


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