Duterte allows 'limited' face-to-face classes in low-risk areas

President Rodrigo Duterte has allowed "limited" face-to-face classes in low-risk areas or those under the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on Tuesday, July 21.

"We're thinking up to January 2021 that we can allow. From August to December, we can start assessing the school and start inspecting facilities of school," Education Secretary Leonor Briones said during a pre-recorded Cabinet meeting with Duterte aired on Tuesday morning.

Briones said not all low-risk areas can resume face-to-face classes – only those that meet requirements such as adequate facilities. "They have to be inspected," she said.

Duterte said he is "okay" with Briones' proposal. "I'm with you on this," he told the education chief.

Briones explained that schools should not only be coordinating with the Department of Education (DepEd), but with local government units and health officials as well. She added that stringent health standards must be followed.

Briones also said that DepEd would take the advice of National Task Force Chief Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr and Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año seriously to have a "joint inspection."

Briones cited the following advantages of face-to-face classes:

  • familiarity of students and teachers 
  • lower administrative cost
  • closure of "inequality gaps"
  • socialization among students

She also cited the following disadvantages:

  • health risks
  • costs of maintaining health standards and facilities

Remote islands such as Siquijor, Dinagat Islands, and Siargao were among the areas requesting the limited "face-to-face" setup. Briones also mentioned that there were other LGUs requesting, but she didn't identify these.

New law on class opening

On Monday, July 20, Malacañang announced that Duterte signed a law that gives him the power to reopen schools later than August during a state of emergency.

The new law allows the President, upon the recommendation of the education department, to "set a different date" for the start of classes nationwide or in specific parts of the country. Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11480 on Friday, July 17, amending a previous law.

Briones, however, said that the August 24 date as class opening still stands.

Despite calls to delay classes, Briones had reiterated on Wednesday night, July 15, that classes would open on August 24 "whatever form it is." (READ: No backing down: Briones says classes will open on August 24 'whatever form it is')

Many have criticized the DepEd's decision to open schools in the middle of a health crisis. (READ: No student left behind? During pandemic, education 'only for those who can afford')

Parents and students pointed out that the coronavirus lockdown has affected household finances, and many Filipinos don't even have access to a computer or the internet.

The DepEd decided to shift to distance learning for the coming school year to comply with the President's directive for schools to postpone face-to-face classes until a coronavirus vaccine becomes available.

This comes as a global debate rages about reopening of schools during the pandemic.

study in South Korea showed that young people between 10 and 19 years old can spread COVID-19 as much as adults do, which means reopening schools can increase virus transmission. At the same time, a US scientific panel recommended face-to-face classes for children who are younger or who have special needs.

In May, experts at the University of the Philippines warned that COVID-19 transmission might increase should face-to-face classes open in Metro Manila schools in August and September.

On Monday, July 20, the Philippines recorded 68,898 cases of COVID-19 infections, including 1,835 deaths and 23,072 recoveries. – Rappler.com

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.

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