Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools in Japan at Misawa Air Base, Yokota Air Base and Kadena Air Base are temporarily closing amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
On Thursday, DoDEA Pacific announced that schools would close starting March 23 and virtual learning for students at schools would kick off on March 25. After schools undergo a deep clean, they are slated to re-open after spring break on April 13.
“The decision to close Japan schools was made out of an abundance of caution and in order to allow for a thorough school cleaning, which would not be possible while students are in the building," DoDEA Pacific said in the letter Thursday. "This pause will also allow school officials to work to augment necessary cleaning supplies and enhance institutional mitigation measures.”
Not everyone wanted schools to remain open this long though.
According to Air Force spouse Kara Douglas, DoDEA schools should have been closed weeks ago. Douglas and her husband are stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and have three children attending DoDEA schools: two at Bob Hope Primary School, and another at Amelia Earhart Intermediate School.
Worry plagued Douglas about sending her children to school, particularly because she and her husband lost their first daughter shortly after she was born. Learning DoDEA schools were temporarily closing provided Douglas a wave of relief, she said.
“The worry never stopped. I have been so scared about sending my children to school that it affected my sleep and caused intense anxiety,” Douglas told Air Force Times. “When I got the email today from the schools about the closing I was so relieved. I'm so happy we are doing virtual learning.”
Not all of Douglas’ fears have evaporated though. One of her children has severe food allergies, and she’s worried about what the commissary on base will have in stock her daughter can eat.
“My youngest daughter has multiple severe food allergies which are very hard on her immune system,” Douglas said. “So obviously I worry about her during all of this. Will we be able to still buy her safe food at the commissary?”
The 18th Wing based out of Kadena has taken several steps to try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. For example, Kadena issued guidance surrounding base access and instituted some procedural changes preventing base security from physically touching IDs at installation gates.
“Last week the gate guards decided to not touch the military ID's of people entering base,” Douglas said. “That upset me, they don't want to touch IDs but we can still send our kids to school?”
DoDEA schools in Japan were late to the game to close down schools, in comparison to their counterparts in South Korea and Guam who are already closed.
Prior to Thursday’s announcement, DoDEA officials said Tuesday during a Facebook Live town hall any decision to cancel classes would be made in tandem with U.S. Forces Japan and medical authorities. DoDEA Pacific East Superintendent Judy Allen did say that parents could keep their children home at school and their absences would be excused.
DoDEA schools at Air Force installations include Sollars Elementary School and Edgren High School at Misawa; Mendel Elementary School, and Yokota Middle and High School at Yokota; and Bob Hope Elementary School and Amelia Earhart Intermediate School at Kadena, among others.
So far, Japan has more than 800 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization.