DepEd told: Reduce schools in test of in-person classes for higher chance of Duterte OK
A Taguig Sanitation Office personnel sprays a disinfectant solution at bus terminals and schools to contain the possible spreading of COVID-19.
The STAR/Edd Gumban

DepEd told: Reduce schools in test of in-person classes for higher chance of Duterte OK

(Philstar.com) - March 3, 2021 - 7:33pm

MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Wednesday said the education department should include fewer schools for its pilot test on resuming physical classes, saying the president might not allow the trial if involves more than a thousand sites.

DepEd, in its presentation before the Senate Committee on Education said 1,579 schools across the country are being eyed for pilot testing.

The number is up from the initial 1,100 schools that the agency announced in December 2020. A planned test run was eventually shelved over the threat of a more infectious variant of the coronavirus that was first seen in the United Kingdom.

Members of the committee said DepEd should be more particular in identifying sites that are considered as low-risk areas, and exclude those in areas with high transmission.

"To make the pilot face-to-face more acceptable, maybe we should not include yet Metro Manila and Quezon Province," said Sen. Nancy Binay, partly in Filipino. "Because these are areas in your own list that have recorded a high number of learners and teaching personnel contracting the virus."

Binay was referring to figures presented by the agency that showed Quezon Province had so far 102 students and 91 teaching and non-teaching staff who have tested positive for the COVID-19.

Quezon City (104 cases) and Navotas (99) were among the top 10 divisions with high infections. In total, DepEd said, its tally of cases is at 4,468 — 2,830 school personnel and 1,638 students.

"Because if Metro Manila is included, even I would not be in favor of holding face-to-face classes," Binay said. The senator's sister is mayor of Makati City.

"Because we know that if it shifts to MGCQ, it's because they need to reopen the economy...if you have too many, the pilot can't proceed, that's why we have to make it smaller to get the president to approve."

Sen. Imee Marcos suggested too that DepEd makes the distribution of selected sites "representative" of rural areas, island provinces, and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

"I think it's much more important to have a representative sampling rather than adding and adding to this list," she said. "This is why it can't be approved because Malacañang is getting nervous about [the number]."

'Go beyond quarantine levels'

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who chairs the committee, meanwhile, said the quarantine levels set by the coronavirus task force are too generalized to be used as DepEd's basis for inclusion in pilot testing.

In the latest pronouncement, almost the entire country is under the loosest form of quarantine, while Metro Manila and nine other areas remain in GCQ.

Gatchalian was particularly concerned that the selection of sites was not from a risk-based assessment. He said this could lead school superintendents to recommend sites for holding physical classes even when areas still have a high transmission.

He warnd that that "might not build confidence in our parents and school officials."

He said DepEd could follow standards set by the UNICEF, whose criteria includes having fewer than 10 virus cases per 100,000 in the population in the last seven days, positivity rates below 5%, and local governments with efficient contact tracing and surveillance systems.

Senators said the agency should tap the help of public health experts such as epidemiologists, including the OCTA Research group, to effectively map out areas where the pilot study could be held.

The same proposal was earlier made by Gatchalian's counterpart in the House of Representatives, Rep. Roman Romulo (Pasig), who called for a panel that would advise DepEd on the matter.

"We really need to be more focused on what we will present to the president," Binay said. "If possible, you could include already the name of schools and how many students will participate because I think that's the only way to convince him that this is only limited."

Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan, who led the presentation before the Senate, said they will take into account the lawmakers' recommendations.

The agency faces the crucial task of securing President Rodrigo Duterte's nod after already being turned down twice — first in August 2020 and again in February 2021 — as calls for a safe return to schools mount. — Christian Deiparine

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