Department of Defense Education Activity

Six questions about the Return to School with Director Tom Brady

Where does a school system start in making a plan to return students to schools for the coming school year?

This is a remarkably complex issue.  At the end of the day, we're all concerned about getting children back to school safely – and making sure our teachers and administrators are safe as well. The imperative has to be get kids back safely into our brick and mortar schools. So then you work backwards from that, get the facts, and make the right decisions going forward.You have to rely on the medical experts, which we have extensively. You have to rely on the local military commanders who have access to the health care professionals. You take all of this information -- from the CDC, the Academy of Pediatrics, and others -- and come up with the best design to keep children safe in this remarkably complex and unknown environment. We have a great staff who have been working on this 24/7.

Will students be able to safely return to our school buildings this fall and return to in-person instruction?

We have a path forward. We have in place all the right things, according to all the latest experts -- social distancing, wearing masks, taking precautions, and looking at the local environment.  The decisions are based on the facts – current community cases, testing availability, protocols in the event a child or adult gets sick in school, the ability to clean our building to the CDC standard daily, and other measures to provide a safe environment? That's what we're looking into and I think we're on the right track.

How about students who may have a compromising health condition or parents who may have other concerns? 

We have to be realistic. There are children with medical conditions and health issues that cannot be placed in what we consider a safe environment or parents who are simply not prepared to have their child placed in a school setting, which is okay.  We have to address those needs, too. 

So we're expanding the DoDEA Virtual High School, from grades 9-12 to grades K-12. This will offer parents an opportunity if, after they see what we've done, feel they're not comfortable. They can enroll for at least one semester in the full time Virtual School.In offering those two alternatives, I think we can get back to the business of teaching our children.

How can parents help us maintain a healthy environment in our schools and classrooms?

Parents are critical when it comes to helping students develop healthy habits and good hygiene, and a child's day begins and ends with them. They can help in a couple of important ways.

First, in the old paradigm, daily attendance at school was paramount. In this “new normal”, and I hate to use that cliché, not attending school if your child shows some sort of a cold, or has a slight fever, that's okay.  Keep your child home if he or she is not feeling well. 

Secondly, we know that the CDC and Dr. Fauci remind us all the time about two very important practices – “Wash your hands and wear a face mask!”  These minimize the opportunity to transfer the virus for all of us. 

So actually, the parents are our first line of defense for the community to make sure that this virus doesn't spread.

We don't know what the virus will do next. What are you planning in terms of flexibility if things take a turn that we don't expect?

Well, you have to expect the unexpected and there are always courses of action to take care of the unexpected.  We are anticipating all sorts of things that may happen, and all in the context of continuing our mission to deliver quality instruction to our children as well as the impact our operation has on military readiness.  If second wave or something similar happens, we will revert, like we did before, to remote learning for students in the in-person model.  Our Virtual School students will continue their learning uninterrupted.  

I am convinced that our remarkable teacher workforce, after having experience in Google Classroom will be able to transition to the remote.  Do we want that?  Absolutely not.  So of course, our aim is to continue learning in the brick and mortar schools, but we have to and will be prepared for all contingencies.

In the last four months, what has surprised you the most? 

In February when I had word that the commanders in Korea requested that our schools, along with the entire installation, be closed because of the COVID-19, I was really concerned. 
My concern, my fear was -- what do we do now?  

We talked about having school digitally. We had a workforce of great teachers, but we hadn't done it previously.  

Within 72 hours, our superintendents, principals, teachers and support personnel from HQ, regions and districts mobilized around options and solutions.  That effort continued around the globe to Italy, across Europe and the rest of the Pacific, and then to the Americas. 

It was seamless -- like it had been planned for years. The strength and dedication of this organization, the absolute “can do/we will get it done” attitude of our people - of our organization, just absolutely surprised me, but it shouldn't have.   We have looked at the engagement data over those past months and the results point to quality. They showcase dedication on the part of teachers and a remarkable technology infrastructure base that we could rely on. And we can’t overlook the contribution of the support personnel on the staff because they are just as important in the success of this educational process.  

So many good things -- so many resources -- all came together in support of our families.