STUTTGART, Germany – Due to COVID-19, the upcoming school year will look a little different for U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart families. The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) is offering parents and students a choice between returning to campus or registering for virtual school online.Parents can register their child for school at www.dodea.edu/Europe/registration.cfm. The deadline for virtual school registration is July 28.DoDEA Europe East Superintendent, Steven Sanchez, said creating a COVID-free environment for all students to learn in has been the mission at every level of DoDEA leadership since May.“This is all we are focused on,” said Sanchez. “Our preparation for how sanitized our schools will be, for the procedures and protocols that we need in place, the types of instruction we can offer, we’ve been working on this and will continue to work on it, because we realize that it will change as the world situation changes too.”DoDEA schools will follow CDC and DoD COVID-19 recommendations to mitigate risks to students and staff on campus. Face masks will be required when six feet of distance cannot be maintained.Stuttgart Elementary School Principal Sonja Rodriguez said her staff is working to remove nonessential furniture to create spaces where children can remove masks throughout the day. She is also working with the transportation office to clear out bus parking lanes and create extra space to hold outdoor activities and recess.“To the greatest extent practical, our students will attend recess,” said Sanchez. “That means in the snow too so we are asking parents to make sure their kids have appropriate winter attire because the kids love to go out and play in winter too.”Rodriguez said she feels confident her staff and parents will unite to help kids understand why these changes are happening.“We don’t want to scare the children or make everything seem like a bad thing so it's important parents and our teachers work together to make this a positive experience,” said Rodriguez.The Stuttgart High School Principal Rick Renninger is also considering ways to hold classes outside when possible and open the auditorium for extra seating during the three lunch sessions the high school will have. Students will follow a one-direction flow when transiting between classes and wear masks when physical distancing cannot be observed.“If I was doing this job anywhere else, my biggest concern would be that students weren’t going to follow the rules but I have never been able to trust a community as much as I’ve trusted these students,” said Renninger. “I truly do believe that everyone is going to follow the guidelines we’ve established because they know that we all have to do it to keep everyone safe.”Parents can see exactly how schools will mitigate risks at each Health Protective Condition Level (HPCON) by visiting DoDEA.edu/returntoschool. Sanchez encourages every parent to read the Ensuring a Safe and Healthy Return to School guide at the website above to make an informed decision when registering.Whichever option parents choose, they can be confident that their child will receive the same quality education DoDEA prides itself on.“We’ve had a very successful virtual high school for over a decade now and we will be expanding that to take on all our virtual classes,” said Sanchez. “We are purchasing a curriculum that is already aligned to our standard. It is high-quality and it is going to be interesting and engaging for students.”Sanchez stressed that virtual learning will not be the same as what parents and students experienced last spring. Elementary students will likely have three different teachers. One for math and science, one for English and social studies and a third for electives. And while they may be from a different school, they will likely be in the same region as their students.Students will not attend every class every day. Their semester will be laid out in advance and weekly modules will open on Monday so that parents and students can see requirements early and reach out to teachers during their scheduled office hours for any needed help.The new set-up will offer a change for many teachers as well. Sanchez said some are being reassigned and others have volunteered to bring the virtual school to life. He added that all will be specially equipped for this new challenge.“We have had great success with our virtual high school and they will train our transferring and new teachers to make sure they're up to speed and able to deliver this content effectively,” said Sanchez.Whichever option parents choose, Sanchez said they will have to commit for the entire semester. He explained that once registration ends, classrooms and schools will be arranged to accommodate the number of students enrolled in face-to-face classes and will not be able to add more. The same policy applies for virtual classrooms to ensure teachers can give each student adequate time for help and feedback.Students will have the option to switch for the second semester during another registration period in the fall.In the event that an outbreak of COVID-19 forces a school to close for six days or more, students and their teachers on campus will return to remote learning, as they did in the spring. The virtual school will continue uninterrupted.“This has been and will continue to be a very close partnership between DoDEA and our garrison commanders and health officials,” explained Sanchez. “If they decide they need to go to HPCON-C then we drop back into remote learning and the students will remain with their teachers if that happens.”The DoDEA team is working to provide a safe environment to reunite staff and students for the academic year 2020-2021. Rodriguez said all of the efforts will be worth the result.“I’m most looking forward to interacting with the kids again,” she said. “It's going to be hard not to be able to give them all high-fives, but we will overcome that. Plus, there's never a bad day in elementary school because if you think you’re having a bad day, you just go visit kindergarten.”Sanchez also believes that students and teachers are ready to get back into the classroom.“One of the things we have learned this spring is that kids and teachers alike missed that time together,” he said. “And it won't be the exact same with physical distancing requirements, but they can still see each other and interact. It’s the best thing that we can all do right now to give them that socialization while keeping everyone safe.”