FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – The successful opening of Fort Campbell schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its continued success in the coming school year stands upon a firm foundation of teamwork, said Joshua Adams, Kentucky Community superintendent, Department of Defense Education Activity Americas Southeast District.“It has been great and I don’t say that with rose-colored glasses, we are going into this with all of the same concerns as the parents, even a few more,” Adams said. For the last few weeks, we have talked nonstop with teachers, students and parents, with support from Fort Campbell leaders and staff – it has been a combined effort.”Christy Huddleston, DoDEA Americas Southeast District superintendent, visited Fort Campbell schools last week to experience for herself all the pieces coming together.The expertise provided by Fort Campbell staff and public health officials from Blanchfield Army Community Hospital remains part of a vital partnership established to provide a safe environment for Fort Campbell’s students to learn and flourish despite COVID-19, Huddleston said.“I was extremely pleased,” she said. “The schools have implemented all of the DoDEA guidelines that were developed based on (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines and this is where the partnership with the installation command is so critical.”Subject-matter experts from the Installation Safety Office; the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; and BACH toured each school with principals and their safety teams to evaluate their COVID-19 mitigation strategies and provided each school team with recommendations for potential improvements, Huddleston said.Much of the expertise within the garrison comes from implementing COVID-19 mitigation processes for the safe reopening of other installation facilities such as the post’s child development centers, she said. The information the subject-matter experts gleaned from those processes early on proved invaluable to the staff, teachers and administrators of the Fort Campbell school system as they prepared their schools’ opening plans.In addition to touring post schools, Fort Campbell staff conducted a tabletop exercise with DoDEA and worked through various scenarios in the event there is a COVID-19 positive case at one of the schools.The exercise prepared DoDEA administrators to ready their staff and teachers during the week before school started, Adams said. It also connected DoDEA’s school nurses with BACH nurses for training and to discuss how various COVID-19 positive scenarios should be addressed.“Our school nurses are going to be so crucial in this, so we wanted them to have built a good relationship with their counterparts at BACH,” he said.DoDEA’s ability to use the installation’s expertise and assets for joint risk assessments and contact tracing should the need arise also is critical in the current COVID-19 environment, Huddleston said. If there is a positive case at one of the schools, a risk assessment will be established with the support of medical professionals and a contact trace team. Upon completion, Col. Jeremy D. Bell, Fort Campbell garrison commander, and Adams will review the risk assessment and determine the proper course of action.The course of action is guided by the situation at the time and can include a variety of approaches such as disinfecting and cleaning the school and determining who should be sent home and for what period of time, Adams said.“We will make that decision jointly based upon the case and in particular based upon what the contact trace tells us,” he said.Huddleston and Adams said the safety of Fort Campbell’s students, teachers and staff are their No. 1 priority.“We want our community, our parents, our faculty members and our students to really have the confidence in knowing and understanding that everybody’s safety matters to the mission of the installation, to our employees,” Huddleston said. “Having that joint effort has built and developed the confidence that people have put in us to let their children come back to school.”That confidence also has not been lost on the students who returned to school Aug. 24. During her visit to Fort Campbell schools, Huddleston spoke with students who were invited to share their feelings and concerns.“Anytime I go into a school I’m going to ask the kids questions, because it matters to me how they feel,” she said. “I asked so many kids, ‘Are you excited to be back in school?’ ‘Do you feel safe?’ ‘What do you think?’ There was not one student who told me ‘I don’t feel safe.’”Adams, who speaks with the garrison commander on a near daily basis, said open lines of communication are a vital part of ensuring the 2020-2021 school year is successful for Fort Campbell students.“People are busy in their lives and if you just use one manner of communication to get the word out it does not always get there,” he said. “In the last couple of weeks, Fort Campbell has just been a fantastic partner in getting our key messages out.”While DODEA used its social media and school websites to inform parents of returning students, Fort Campbell shared key messages via the installation’s social media sites, the Fort Campbell Courier, and Facebook Live town halls where parents could ask questions and raise concerns.The joint messaging helped inform staff, parents and students about COVID-19 safety protocols at the schools and on the buses, face mask and social distancing requirements, and the stipulation that parents prescreen their students before each school day.“Safety is a priority on this installation, people are already used to wearing masks, kids did it at the CDCs over the summer,” Adams said. “And the parents have already heard a lot of that messaging. The kids and the parents came prepared because they didn’t just hear it from the schools, they heard the same safety message from the garrison commander and the commanding general.”Although the first week of school was exciting and emotional, he said, it is important for everyone to remember this is not the highlight of the year.“Going forward from the parents to the students to the teachers to me, we have to keep the focus on doing this the same way the whole year,” he said. “We can’t get comfortable and slide off a little bit, become complacent, this is just a situation where complacency can happen. It is great that the first week has worked so well, but we are all going have to be really focused – everyone, the whole team, at home, at school, on the installation – on doing all of these things every day for the whole year and if we do that we are going to be great.”