Here's how the Philippines plans to hold a limited return to classrooms

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Education and health officials on Monday signed a document outlining how they plan to implement a limited return to classrooms after President Rodrigo Duterte approved the pilot run. 

Department of Education Director Roger Masapol, planning service chief, said discussions on the joint memorandum circular began in May. 

In a briefing, he said it involved sharing data with the Department of Health and the United Nations Children's Fund, as well as consultation with stakeholders — parents, teachers, and local governments. 

How will schools be selected?

DepEd said 100 public schools in "low-risk" areas would be first to hold the physical classes, with 20 private institutions to be included later on. 

These schools would have to pass the agency's safety assessment and get their LGU's approval to participate. 

Masapol shared that 638 sites were recommended by regional directors but the figure would still have to be narrowed down. 

Private schools would have to submit documents on how they plan to carry out face-to-face classes, as well as steps should COVID-19 infections are reported. 

But while the JMC has been signed, there is still no list of the selected schools, including which areas are deemed low risk by the DOH. There is also no official date yet on when it will start.

Which grade levels can join?

The limited in-person classes would be open to students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 in 95 schools, and in five Senior High School pilot sites. 

Participation will be voluntary, and would require signed consent from parents or guardians. Most preferred are those living near the selected schools and those with access to private transport or regulated public transportation. 

For students to join, they should also have no existing comorbidities, and those with the "greatest need" for face-to-face would be prioritized. 

The Philippine Pediatric Society said the 5- to 8-year-old age group has been identified as the least affected by COVID. 

Dr. Joselyn Eusebio, PPS president, said they are also the "most in need of actual face-to-face learning as far as basic reading and writing are concerned."

But she added there should be provisions to ensure children's safety and called to fast track adult vaccination to protect more of them. 

Faculty and non-teaching staff

The agency said school personnel up to 65 years old with no comorbidities can participate in the pilot run. 

Masapol earlier said those involved would have to be fully vaccinated. The JMC, however, said teachers and other employees are eligible "regardless of the vaccination status."

Philstar.com has sought clarification from DepEd on this. Last week, Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan told a TV interview that pilot schools would be prioritized to get the jabs, but did not say vaccination would be mandatory. The Philippines does not have mandatory vaccination at this time. 

He also reported that 30% of the more than 788,000 teaching force have completed their vaccine shots. 

Safety measures

For schedules, DepEd said Kindergarten students would have up to three hours' stay in school, while 4.5 hours for the rest.

The cap on class sizes per year level was set at:

  • 12 in Kinder
  • 16 in Grades 1 to 3
  • 20 in Senior High School when in classroom
  • 12 in SHS when in Technical-Vocational-Livelihood workshops or in science laboratories

Schools are tasked to ensure physical distancing of 1 to 2 meters apart in classrooms, and put up sanitation and hygiene facilities such as handwashing stations. 

They would also be required to set up contact-tracing procedures, a help desk connected to hospitals and LGUs, as well as a decision model for closing and reopening when cases are detected. 

School lockdowns

DepEd said declaring a school lockdown would be up to local pandemic task forces. 

The considerations for lockdowns are:

  • when there is a suspect, probable, or confirmed COVID-19 case
  • when IATF identifies quarantine risk
  • or if there are violations or instances of failure to comply with health standards 

"During the lockdown, school management shall ensure contact tracing and disinfection activities," the JMC read.

Schools can only reopen once contact tracing and disinfection activities are complete, as well as if 14 days have passed with no confirmed case. 

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