The Pentagon says it's preparing to open schools on U.S. military bases worldwide this fall for students in grades K-12 as long as the risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus in the surrounding area remains "limited" or "moderate," according to newly released guidance.
"To the maximum extent possible... schools will operate brick and mortar schools on a regular full-time schedule," the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), which oversees grade schools on U.S. military bases, said in a recent statement. "There will not be alternating days, half-days or staggered schedules."
The Defense Department (DoD) will also offer a virtual school option for parents and students with "health vulnerabilities," the agency added.
Schools on U.S. military bases around the world will be fully operational only if the bases have a "limited" or "moderate" risk of transmission of COVID-19, according to the DoD's Health Protection Condition, or HPCON -- in military argot, "Alpha" or "Bravo" levels, respectively.
“We understand that some families may have circumstances where they do not wish to or are unable to send their child(ren) to the brick-and-mortar setting," said Dr. Judith Minor, the DoDEA Americas director of student excellence. "While we have confidence in our communities to enact mitigating measures in conjunction with local health and CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance, we will also provide a virtual platform for higher-risk students to continue to learn virtually.”
At a press briefing at the Pentagon Tuesday afternoon, Defense Secretary Mark Esper's top spokesman outlined the policy. "If the facility is open for business as usual, then the schools will be, as well," Jonathan Hoffman said. "The goal... is to have in-person classes."
Hoffman said the schools that are expected to open are in areas that have seen a "downward trend over the last 14 days." Other factors include available hospital bed space and medical care availability, he said.
In parts of the country or around the world that have a "substantial" or "severe" COVID-19 transmission threat, the schools will shift to virtual learning, based on the local base commander's input, Hoffman added.
He said more information on schools opening this fall was expected to be released Tuesday.
Dr. Scott Atlas, former chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center, recently weighed in on keeping schools safe amid the coronavirus pandemic on "America’s Newsroom."
"There's no rational reason or science to say that children transmit the disease significantly," he said last week, noting: "Distance learning is not going to work."
"We are the only country not opening schools," Atlas added.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently said the Big Apple's 1.1 million students would not go back to school five days a week. Earlier this month, he said public schools will not fully reopen in the fall fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, and that students will instead learn on a "blended" schedule and be limited to a maximum of three days in the classroom, while engaging in remote learning for the remainder of the week.
President Trump has expressed a strong desire for schools to reopen across the country.
In his interview with Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," the president said "schools have to open" and blamed Democrats for "purposefully keeping their schools closed, keeping their states closed."