WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite President Donald Trump’s push to open all schools, half of the Defense Department’s schools in America will not open for in-person learning as the country struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In stark contrast, only two of the department’s 68 schools in Europe will be operating remotely, underscoring the dramatic difference between the widespread outbreak in the U.S. and the success other countries have had in bringing it under control. Defense Department schools in the Pacific region will also be split, with 26 of the 45 facilities open for in-person learning.
Trump on Wednesday repeated his call to reopen schools, and again pushed Congress to steer future coronavirus funding away from schools that don’t open this fall. Most of the nation’s largest school districts, however, are planning to start the year with remote instruction.
Thomas Brady, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, told Pentagon reporters on Thursday that 10,000 students — out of 70,000 worldwide — have opted for virtual learning. Brady said parents were allowed to select that option, which is mainly for high school students and is an independent learning process. Students would sign up for a semester, receive instruction materials and then complete course work on their own schedule. They would have access to instructors when needed.
“The virtual school is provided as an option for those parents who make that conscious decision that it’s best for their family and their students to do that,” said Brady.
In addition, he said 500 teachers have requested a special accommodation not to teach in person. He said those are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and some teachers would be able to participate in the virtual school.
“The best education is face-to-face in a classroom, and so our priority is to open every classroom that we can, safely,” said Brady. In-person learning, he said, is “just absolutely a better situation for student achievement.” He said remote learning is the next best option, and noted that teachers have gotten better at it after struggling last spring when the virus hit.
As of Wednesday, Brady said, about 36,000 students were heading to brick-and-mortar schools worldwide, while more than 15,500 would be learning remotely, in addition to the 10,000 who have chosen the virtual option.
The remote option is separate from the virtual school. Schools that open for remote learning will have students take their classes online with their teachers, as many did last spring.
About 2,000 more children are enrolled in pre-kindergarten in-person schools, and that number is expected to grow, he said.
Brady said there is no option for testing students for the virus before they start school, saying it was determined to be not viable or necessary.
The schools that will be limited to remote learning are in the South, where the numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths have been spiking. They are in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Puerto Rico. The South is home to a number of large Army bases, where there are several schools, such as Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Benning, Georgia.
The decision to open a school for in-person instruction is based on the virus conditions of the surrounding community and decisions of the commanders.
He said if a student or teacher tests positive for the virus, the school will close for a few days for cleaning. If the closure lasts more than five days, the school will shift to remote learning for as long as needed.
Trump has said school funding in the coronavirus bill being negotiated now by Congress should go to parents if their local schools do not reopen for in-person instruction.