SENATE president pro tempore Ralph Recto yesterday called on the Department of Education to work with local government heads, local school boards, and experts to redesign classrooms, making them safe for limited face-to-face classes in low-risk areas.
“Here’s an assignment for the Department of Education: Set up laboratory schools that will test the safety of limited face-to-face classes. That is the lesson DepEd should study.
Debates on whether to open classes should now move from theory to trials,” Recto said.
Recto issued the statement a day after five of his colleagues said they are in favor of pilot testing face-to-face classes in low-risk areas even as President Duterte thumbed down a recommendation to hold classes in at least 1,065 public schools in areas with low to zero COVID-19 cases until vaccines are administered.
According to the UP endCOV tracker 2021 data as of February 20 presented by DepEd during last Wednesday’s Senate committee on basic education hearing, there are 433 out of 1,488 municipalities nationwide without COVID cases.
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has the most number of “zero” COVID-19 cases at 74 of its 116 municipalities, followed by the Eastern Visayas region with 46 of 136 municipalities, and the Mimaropa region with 45 of its 71 municipalities.
Recto said there is a need to design classrooms “safe for our children and teachers.”
Recto said these “closely monitored trial classes” can be held in COVID-free areas, like those in remote barangays or self-contained communities that have not recorded a single COVID-19 case in months.
To give participants “peace of mind,” Recto said the government should guarantee the full cost of hospitalization, “under an insurance package worth millions.”
He said only volunteers should participate, “we will not force anyone to join, because what we want is a community project and not something that is imposed by the government.”
Recto said even if mass vaccination is underway, health protocols will remain for some time “and how these will be imposed in a school setting must be studied.”
“Even if vaccines are already available, masking and social distancing will remain. We cannot right away go back to jampacked schools with standing-room only classes. What if COVID has long-haul effects on society? Our children cannot just attend forever distance learning,” he said.