Rody okays limited face-to-face classes

    Back to school. Students wearing protective face masks sit at their desks behind a plastic sheet to prevent COVID-19 infection in an English class at Takanedai Daisan elementary school in Funabashi, east of Tokyo. REUTERS PHOTO

    AFTER a steadfast refusal in the past months, President Duterte Wednesday night gave permission to the Department of Education (DepEd) to hold face-to-face classes subject to specific conditions.

    DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones, speaking during the Laging Handa public briefing, said the physical presence of teachers and students in classrooms will be allowed only in areas deemed to have “low-risk” COVID-19 infection.

    She said each class will be sub-divided so the students will report to school only in small batches at no more than twice a week.

    “This was taken up last night at the Cabinet meeting in the presence of President Duterte. We discussed various proposals related to this. We thought, in low risk areas, it may be applicable so long as it is not on a daily basis,” she said.

    Briones said Duterte insisted that the safety of schoolchildren and teachers be given priority.

    “The President gave specific instructions that these will be limited face-to-face sessions and that students should not remain in school all day. Activities like sports will also be strictly prohibited to minimize potential exposure,” she said.

    Yesterday, however, Malacanang yesterday said face-to-face classes, even in higher education institutions located in areas under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), are still not allowed.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte had instructed the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the DpeEd to submit their latest proposal and plans about the school opening, including scenarios for the possible conduct of face-to-face classes amid the COVID pandemic.

    “There is a proposal for a limited face-to-face classes; it cannot be implemented until it has been approved by the President,” Roque, adding the proposed face-to face-classes would be further studied.

    CHED Chairman Prospero de Vera III raised during a meeting in Malacanang on Wednesday night that several local government units along with colleges and universities both public and private, had raised concerns that they do not have internet connection to conduct online classes and implement distance learning.

    Briones said the evaluation of a school’s suitability will be subject to the assessment of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infection Diseases (IATF-EID) as a low risk province or municipality for coronavirus infection.

    “Definitely, we won’t put students and teachers in harm’s way if the school is located in an area with a high incidence of COVID 19,” she stressed.

    There will be an onsite inspection of school facilities if the classrooms have room enough for the observance of social distancing and whether there is reliable water supply for frequent handwashing.

    Another important consideration is the proximity and accessibility of a health facility that can accommodate emergency cases should the need arise.

    “It is important to determine if a school can comply with minimum health standards before we agree to face-to-face classes. Just because we announced that we are relaxing the ban on this does not mean all schools are automatic permitted,” Briones said.

    She said face-to-face lessons foster better relationships between students and teachers compared to limiting their interactions to “good robotic voices” through electronic gadgets.

    The DepEd said 20,744,595 students have enrollees in private and public schools across the country this year compared to 27,216,398 last year, a drop of 25.4 percent, way below the department’s target.

    Data provided by the agency showed public schools had a total number of 19,626,653 enrollees compared to 22.5 million last year. Enrolment in private schools and state universities and colleges went down to 1,050,437 from more than 2.4 million last year.

    DepEd Undersecretary Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan said the department will look for those who did not enroll this school year and place them in its alternative learning system. – With Noel Talacay