The death of a school counselor at Fort Knox has become a new flashpoint in the debate over in-person education during a global pandemic.
The Federal Education Association, which represents educators and support professionals at Fort Knox, is calling for the immediate implementation of remote learning exclusively at all Department of Defense Education Activity Schools. It said DoDEA Director Tom Brady is “culpable for this tragic loss” because of decisions to open schools and require teachers to attend in-person training when the COVID risk level called for precautions.
The organization’s leadership “repeatedly warned DoDEA management of the dangers of opening schools for in-person learning, as was done at Fort Knox in August,” according to a news release issued Wednesday.
The FEA-Stateside Region filed a notice of health and safety violations with DoDEA in August over its opening of schools at Fort Knox and elsewhere for in-person learning because of the COVID 19 threat.
The statement said six educators were diagnosed with COVID-related symptoms at Fort Knox Middle/High School.
The district temporarily switched to virtual instruction last month because of confirmed coronavirus cases. It is scheduled to resume in-person instruction Monday.
The organization calls the death of Pamela Harris “completely preventable.”
DoDEA spokesman Will Griffin told Military Times school officials work closely with military public health and military commands regarding decisions about whether to move schools to remote learning and back to in-person, with the health protection condition levels of an installation being the baseline for the decisions. There are protocols for closing and cleaning schools in the event COVID cases have been reported. Installation health officials and other leaders also were involved in the planning for reopening in the fall, including the safety and health protocols, requirements for social distancing and other measures.
When the school year started, 25 of 50 DoDEA schools in the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico opened remotely. Overall about one-third of the DoDEA’s 160 schools around the world opened remotely.
“Director Brady must take immediate action to make sure a tragedy such as this never happens again,” said Diane Gibbs, FEA’s director for the DoDEA Americas school system. “Cases have been springing up elsewhere throughout DoDEA. It is only a matter of time before another preventable and unnecessary death occurs.”
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