(Author’s note: Every instance of the abbreviation “CDC” in this article refers to Child Development Centers on military bases, not the Centers For Disease Control)
When health issues related to COVID-19 and the coronavirus began affecting U.S. troops, the military seemed to be more responsive to quarantine concerns than other areas of the federal government.
But that response hasn’t been perfect and military families find themselves at the mercy of conflicting messages and actions from both the government and from the local chain of command.
What do military families need to know about the state of on-base child care, Department of Defense Education Activity schools, and related issues? The short answer is that the local guidance from your school, day care center, and local chain of command is the most relevant–DoD-wide policy may be slower to evolve due to other priorities and local policy is a phone call away.
DoDEA School Closures
There was controversy over DODEA school closures at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan. Parents registered complaints after being informed that on-base schools would remain open during the coronavirus.
That occurred during a town hall meeting at the base. The news publication Pacific Stars And Stripes reports that an online town hall meeting for Yokosuka military families indicated that DODEA “did not plan to imminently close its schools in Japan despite similar closures in the region due to concerns over coronavirus.”
Japanese public schools closed March 2, 2020 over concerns about the virus.
That was overturned later, classes were cancelled, and the Yokosuka military community continues to deal with the outbreak. DODEA closed many school facilities in the United States, Guam, South Korea, Europe, and elsewhere.
A handful of schools remained open. There is an official closure list at the DODEA official site.
At the time of this writing it is not safe to assume ALL on-base schools are closed. Parents should call the schools they are working with to determine local policy. Parents should also monitor the DODEA official site for closure information. The coronavirus outbreak is an ever-changing situation and yesterday’s plans may be obsolete or modified in the future as efforts to contain the outbreak continue.
Child Development Center Operations
To make a long story short, you must call the local Child Development Center that serves you to get information about local availability of on-post care. Don’t wait for DoD-wide information, call locally and plan accordingly. Local policy will evolve more quickly and affect you sooner.
Trying to get answers about DoD-wide policy regarding Child Development Center (CDC) operations during the coronavirus outbreak is not easy.
A phone call to Joint-Base San Antonio’s Child Development Center, for example, revealed that staff on duty had no information on overall Defense Department CDC policy on the outbreak; only command-level information was available.
A phone call to the Family Support Help Desk at MilitaryChildCare.com revealed that in most cases parents will be required to call the local Child Development Center they are currently using or wish to use for local policy, closures, and other information.
Unfortunately, staff answering the phones there were unable to explain at what level this policy was issued at, or by what authority. It’s always best to check locally first, while being aware that higher-level policy changes may be forthcoming depending on circumstances.
CDC Policy And Your Branch Of Service
Child Development Center operations may be regulated differently during the coronavirus depending on the decision of your branch of military service.
For example, the United States Navy has gone on record stating that it has modified child services to eliminate youth sporting events, field trips, and other gatherings. Navy-wide policy at the time of this writing is for CDCs to refuse new enrollees unless they are deemed to be “emergency/mission essential.”
Call Your Local CDC For Critical Information About On-Base Child Care Options
One reason why there may not be a DoD-wide policy regarding the operation of Child Development Centers and other on-base child care facilities? As mentioned above related to new enrollees who are mission-essential, some CDC operations are also mission-critical and will remain open during coronavirus mitigation procedures.
Other CDCs have already been closed by base commanders or other authorities. Still other CDC operations remain open for now, but are refusing new additions to their care roster.
What You Should Do
If you are unclear about the availability of child care during the coronavirus outbreak, do not wait for top-down guidance from the Department of Defense regarding the availability of on-base child care.
Call the local Child Development Center on the base you are assigned to or PCSing to for the most immediate news about availability of care at your base. You can also contact MilitaryChildCare.com or call them at 855.696.2934. Select Option 1, Family Support.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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