school opening in PH

Teachers’ groups slam gov’t decision to allow ‘limited’ face-to-face classes in low-risk areas

Bonz Magsambol
'Sana naman bago ang mga pinal na pagpapasya hinggil sa class opening ay maikonsidera ang kahandaan ng sistema at ang kaligtasan ng mga bata, guro at lahat ng mga mamamayan,' says the Teachers' Dignity Coalition

Two teachers’ groups on Tuesday, July 21, slammed a government decision to allow “limited” face-to-face classes in low-risk areas or those under the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Sa aming palagay ay napakadelikado pa ng face-to-face classes sa mga lugar na mababa o kahit pa walang kaso ng COVID-19. Nakita na natin ito sa mga nakaraang polisiya na kung biglang magluluwag ay mae-expose sa pagkalat ng virus ang mga mamamayan gaya ng nging resulta ng Balik-probinsiya program,” said Benjo Basas, chairperson of the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC).

(In our opinion, it’s very risky to conduct face-to-face classes in areas with low or no recorded cases of COVID-19. We’ve seen it in the previous policies where the people have been exposed in the virus transmission like what happened in the Balik-probinsiya program.)

According to Basas, the government should be focusing on preparing the different modes of distance learning, which will be implemented for the coming school year. 

“Sana naman bago ang mga final na pagpapasya hinggil sa class opening ay maikonsidera ang kahandaan ng sistema at ang kaligtasan ng mga bata, guro at lahat ng mga mamamayan,” Basas said. 

(I hope that before they finalized the decision on the class opening they consider the preparedness of the system and the safety of children, teachers, and the public.)

With just a month before the opening of classes on August 24, the Department of Education (DepEd) has yet to release the specific guidelines on distance learning. 

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Provide ‘comprehensive’ health measures first

For the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), the DepEd should first provide schools with “comprehensive” health measures before holding face-to-face classes in some areas.

“We’re only about a month away from class opening, and we’re still yet to see substantial budget and sufficient measures to ensure the safe return to schools of either or both education workers and learners,” ACT Chairperson Raymond Basilio said. 

According to ACT, the clamor for face-to-face classes did not come from the local government units (LGUs) contrary to what DepEd claimed in two different press briefings on Monday, but from the LGUs’ difficulties in meeting the “burdensome requirements of distance learning passed onto them by the national government.”

“Secretary [Leonor] Briones and President [Rodrigo] Duterte conceding to face-to-face classes in some areas is short of acknowledging the weakness of LCP [learning continuity plan] in terms of education access and quality. But accessible and quality education shall not come at the cost of safety,” said Basilio.

Basilio said the government failed response to the pandemic, as seen in the spike of COVID-19 cases, still ‘at the core’ of the unsafe conditions for face-to-face classes, so much that ACT remains “wary that there are in fact low-risk areas and will stay as such.”

“Limited” face-to-face classes will be allowed in January 2021. But 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.

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.

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’)

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.

A study in South Korea showed 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. Meanwhile, 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.

As of Tuesday, the Philippines recorded 70,764 cases of COVID-19 infections, including 1,837 deaths and 23,381 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.