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Defense Department schools around the world will begin registration for next school year's virtual learning program on March 23, 2021.
Defense Department schools around the world will begin registration for next school year's virtual learning program on March 23, 2021. (Pixabay)

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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – In the uncertainty of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Defense Department schools around the world will begin registration for virtual learning on March 23 for the 2021-22 school year.

The virtual option is available for all Department of Defense Education Activity students in kindergarten through 12th grade, though it is primarily geared toward those who are especially vulnerable to the virus, according to a letter to parents Monday from Joan K. Mendel Elementary School on Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Sign-ups for all regions begin March 23, with full-time virtual school enrollments limited to 2,000 students in the entire DODEA system, Pacific district spokeswoman Miranda Ferguson told Stars and Stripes via email Monday. About 9,000 students enrolled for the current school year, DODEA officials said last fall.

Parents who opt to enroll their students in virtual school must agree to remain in the program for the full school year, according to the letter from Mendel's acting principal, Hoai-My Winder.

DODEA-Pacific also plans to keep in-person classes open, local health conditions permitting, according to the letter.

The cutoff date for virtual school request forms is April 7, and requests will be handled on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to Winder.

“Given the uncertainties of the ongoing pandemic, DODEA recognizes that students and families with health vulnerabilities related to COVID-19 may still have concerns about returning to school,” she wrote. “We understand that it will be a difficult decision for many to commit to the full school year in [virtual school], but it is critical for planning and staffing.”

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

Parents may fill out the virtual school application in the Aspen Parent Portal, the web-based management system used by DODEA schools.

To be eligible for the virtual curriculum, students must be enrolled in a local DODEA brick-and-mortar school.

Schools will notify parents of the status of their children’s virtual school enrollment in May.

About one in four students opted for virtual learning in the first semester of the 2020-21 school year, DODEA told Stars and Stripes in August. Last year was the first time DODEA made a full-time digital learning option available systemwide for all grade levels.

“Schoolyear 2020-2021 has been a challenging one for many of us,” Winder wrote. “I sincerely appreciate the teamwork and support from our parents and faculty as we have found a way to navigate through these difficult times and focus on our creating the best educational environment possible for military-connected students.”

earl.erica@stripes.com Twitter: @ThisEarlGirl

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