"How will safety be ensured in the proposed resumption of face-to-face classes?"
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) on Thursday, December 3, posed this question as government officials mulled over the proposed resumption of face-to-face classes in 2021.
"Many of our teachers and employees have been infected with COVID-19 due to the lack of safety measures in schools while they were required to report physically, these problems should be amply resolved first, lest we allow our students to suffer the same fate," ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio said.
ACT raised concerns over the preparedness of schools in terms of facilities and protocols to ensure the safety of students should this plan be realized, noting that the country is still facing a classroom shortage and lacks health facilities in schools.
"How will the government ensure these given the big shortages in classrooms and teachers, the lack of water supply and hand washing facilities in schools, and the glaring absence of school nurses?" asked Basilio.
Classroom shortages have been a problem even before the pandemic. A class of 75 to 80 students were packed into one classroom supposedly meant for a class of only 40. To make up for the lack of classrooms, class shifting had been implemented to accommodate enrollees every year. (READ: Classroom shortages greet teachers, students in opening of classes)
On November 24, senators urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to consider resuming face-to-face classes, as they expressed apprehensions about whether students, especially those unable to take online classes, are able to retain much from the current modes of remote learning.
The Department of Health (DOH) said on Wednesday that it was open to resuming face-to-face classes in the Philippines, but only in areas where there is "low to minimal risk" of coronavirus cases.
Student group Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) said that the proposal to resume face-to-face classes in the middle of a pandemic is "illogical."
"Until there is no presence of greater health infrastructures in schools and free mass testing and contract tracing are properly implemented, the lives of not just the students alone but also their families and teachers will be at stake if the resumption of physical classes is immediately implemented," said SPARK spokesperson John Lazaro.
"How will DepEd and the entire Duterte regime take accountability if students become carriers of the deadly disease?" Lazaro asked.
SPARK reiterated its demand for an academic freeze until January 2021. (READ: The personal is political: Student leaders take their voices to the streets)
"We demand for the national government to subsidize the internet and gadgets to be used by all students and teachers, as well as to properly prepare for a truly safe return to physical classes through vastly improving health infrastructure in all schools, ensuring safe and accessible mass transport, and other health measures to make it possible," SPARK said in a statement. (READ: No student left behind? During pandemic, education 'only for those who can afford')
In August, the DepEd drew public ire after saying that it has no budget allotted for the treatment of teachers who contract COVID-19. Instead, teachers could seek assistance from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation should they get infected with the deadly disease. (READ: No budget for treatment of teachers with coronavirus – DepEd official)
Education Secretary Leonor Briones said in a press briefing on November 24 said that DepEd was studying the possibility of conducting "limited" face-to-face classes in 2021, given the recent developments on the COVID-19 vaccine.
Briones added that DepEd was preparing a report to get a clearance from the DOH and the government coronavirus task force, noting that this would only be done in "absolutely safe areas."
Schools in the country opened in the middle of the pandemic using distance learning – a mix of online learning and modules – following President Rodrigo Duterte's directive to suspend face-to-face classes until a coronavirus vaccine becomes available. – Rappler.com