A mother and daughter read over a school assignment inside their home at Kaiserslautern, Germany, April 14, 2020.

A mother and daughter read over a school assignment inside their home at Kaiserslautern, Germany, April 14, 2020. (Nesha Stanton/U.S. Army)

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The Federal Education Association is urging parents of students at Defense Department schools to select the online learning option for their children as the new school year approaches.

Department of Defense Education Activity parents have until Tuesday to choose whether they will keep their children at home for online learning or send them back to school for classroom instruction this fall as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

The teachers’ union “believes preparations and precautions are not adequate to safely reopen schools for in-person learning given current conditions in many locations,” spokesman Gary Hritz said in a statement sent to Stars and Stripes on Monday.

The association has advocated for online-only instruction this fall and is now turning to parents directly to select the virtual learning option “as a way to protect against contracting and spreading the virus within the military community,” according to the statement.

DODEA schools closed this spring in favor of online instruction as the coronavirus spread across the world. Schools in Italy shut their doors on Feb. 24, followed by Bahrain and South Korea two days later. Those in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, Spain, Japan and the United Kingdom closed in March.

Next month, DODEA plans to reopen schools in areas where the Health Protection Condition Bravo or better while offering a virtual option for students whose parents choose to keep them at home. Condition Bravo indicates the risk level is moderate with an increased chance of community transmission, according to the Defense Department.

Some parents, such as DODEA substitute teacher Samantha Valera, are grateful for the chance to send their children back for classroom schooling.

“I think if it wasn’t something they could do safely, they wouldn’t do it,” said Valera, who will send her third-grader to classrooms at Sullivans Elementary School on Yokosuka Naval Base. “I’m glad they will be having both options for parents to choose for their children, but I hope teachers are given the same option for themselves.”

A 20-page document outlining how DODEA will implement social distancing in classrooms includes a number of protocols, including separating desks by six feet “where possible” and increasing the frequency of handwashing throughout the school day.

The guidance also calls on school staff to “clean and disinfect surfaces” between classes, at lunch and after school. Custodians will perform “some cleaning and disinfecting,” according to the document, but the rest will be the responsibility of teachers and other faculty.

DODEA will not require face masks when social distancing is possible, but educators should “encourage the proper use, removal and washing of face coverings,” according to the document.

In the Federal Education Association statement, president Brian Chance called DODEA’s precautions “completely unrealistic.”

“DODEA expects teachers to somehow clean every surface within a classroom while simultaneously educating children,” he said in the statement. “DODEAis refusing to require students to wear masks and is instead expecting children as young as five to remain seated and a safe distance from each other throughout the day.”

“How can a teacher safely interact with a child if that child is not wearing a mask?” he added.

Jane Loggins, the teachers’ union director for domestic dependent elementary and secondary schools, in the statement called the plan to reopen Defense Department schools “a disaster waiting to happen.”

“The lives of DoDEA students and employees must not be put at risk by physically opening schools at this time,” Loggins said. Parents can find the form to enroll in virtual school by logging in to their student’s DODEA student Google account or by calling their child’s school, according to the DODEA website.

DODEA public affairs officials in Washington, D.C., could not be reached for comment Monday in Japan due to time zone differences. Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.

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