Students will be returning soon to schools operated by the Department of Defense around the world, preferably on a regular full-time schedule with regular instruction from teachers, with health and safety precautions to lessen the threat from pandemic, school officials announced Wednesday.

Schools at the 15 bases in the U.S. will open at various times in August, with the earliest being Aug. 3 at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Most of the overseas schools in Europe and the Pacific will open Aug. 24. Regional calendars are here.

Officials have launched their Return to School website, which lays out their plans to reopen their 160 schools in 11 countries for an estimated 69,000 students, with all the protections under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Students may be attending school on a regular, full-time basis, but it will be far different. Social distancing, face coverings and other preventive measures will be in place.

“We will remain flexible and prepared for any contingency,” said Tom Brady, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, in his message to parents, students and school staff.

“We have always believed that instruction in the classroom is the optimal learning environment for most of our military-connected students. Restoring teaching and learning to the familiar environments of our classrooms, provides students with stability and continuity,” he said.

“Our preferred goal will be to return to school on a regular, full-time schedule for both students and staff,” Brady said. “Alternating days, half-days, or staggered schedules do not allow us to fully support the military mission,” he said. The vast majority of military children attend public schools around the country, some of which are still struggling with how or if they will reopen. Various school districts around the country have opted for some of these different re-opening plans.

That said, Brady acknowledged that some families may have circumstances where they don’t want to, or are unable to, send their child back to the school building setting. Some students have health or other concerns related to the pandemic that will prevent them from returning to the building. DoDEA is providing its virtual school platform for those students to continue their learning remotely, he said.

DoDEA has been planning and coordinating with local installation and community leaders in order to ease the safe return for students, he said. The implementation of social distancing will look different from school to school, he said, as leaders account for their student needs, building configurations, Health Protection Condition levels, installation conditions, and local government regulations.

DoDEA officials have outlined guidance in a publication called “Ensuring a Safe and Healthy Return to School,” for social distancing for Health Protection conditions Alpha, Bravo and Charlie regarding classrooms, corridors and common area, cafeterias, buses, playgrounds and large group events. In HPCON Charlie, schools are closed.

If the Health Protection Condition changes, and school closures are necessary, the schools have a contingency plan to transition to remote learning, as they did when schools closed earlier this year due to the pandemic.

School principals will communicate information through school newsletters, social media and school websites.

“It is natural for all of us to yearn for a return ‘to the way it was’ before the coronavirus and before the closure of our schools to students,” Brady said in his message. “Unfortunately, all of us face a ‘new normal’ in the wake of a continuing global health crisis.”

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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