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Published in Print: February 12, 2003, as Uncertainty Prompts Kuwait School Hiatus

Uncertainty Prompts Kuwait School Hiatus

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Two schools serving American citizens in Kuwait announced last week that they will close temporarily because of concerns about security and the potential for U.S. military action against Iraq.

The American School of Kuwait, which is affiliated with the U.S. Department of State, and the American International School of Kuwait, both in Kuwait City, were to close from Feb. 10 through March 21.

Kuwait is a key staging ground for the U.S. military, a circumstance generating unease among many of the estimated 8,000 Americans in the country, whose invasion by Iraq led to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Last month, two U.S. civilian military contractors were shot, one fatally, by an alleged sympathizer of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

"There is some anxiety among Americans here," Ron Hawley, the personnel administrator of the American International School, said in a telephone interview from Kuwait last week. "We didn't want people to come to a point that when we try to get them out, there are no planes available."

His school, with about 1,200 students, serves only a small number of American students from U.S. expatriate families. But some of the many Kuwaiti students enrolled were born in the United States during the wartime period 12 years ago and have dual citizenship, he said.

The American School of Kuwait serves more than 1,200 students and has a higher proportion of students from American diplomatic and business families. In a Feb. 2 letter to parents, Superintendent Andy Page-Smith said the decision to close the school "is directly related to growing security concerns" and "the level of uncertainty regarding military action against Iraq."

A Matter of Timing

Officials of both schools suggested that they expect the closings to be temporary and noted that the timing in part coincides with Muslim holidays in February and March. Mr. Page-Smith told parents that the school's calendar would be adjusted to make up lost days beginning March 22.

Mr. Hawley said many in Kuwait expect that a U.S.-led war would begin in the time frame of the school closings because extreme heat would make action more difficult later in the spring.

Other American-curriculum schools in the Middle East do not appear to be closing at this time.

An administrator at the American International School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who asked that his name not be used, said the school would remain open, "barring a dramatic change in circumstance."

"Obviously, we can't forget where we live," he said. "But a lot of international teachers and families are used to living in situations that are, shall we say, politically exciting."

Keith D. Miller, the director of the State Department's office of overseas schools, which assists and monitors American-curriculum schools abroad, said security of such schools is a major concern.

"But it's amazing the resiliency in these schools and communities around the world that just try to carry on," he said last week.

Vol. 22, Issue 22, Page 7

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