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Senate OKs on 3rd reading bill allowing school opening after August

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate has approved on third and final reading a measure that would allow the President to move the opening of classes beyond August during times of emergency.

The bill’s approval comes amid concerns from officials and the public about the Aug. 24 schedule of the opening of classes, which may be held online or via distance learning methods instead of in classrooms because of the health crisis over the new coronavirus.

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Many are concerned about the safety of students, even as the President himself said he does not want classes held until a vaccine for COVID-19 is found.

The bill approved by the Senate would authorize the President, upon the recommendation of the education secretary, to move the start of the school year during a state of emergency or calamity.

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It would cover all basic education institutions, including foreign or international schools.

Under the current law, classes must begin anytime from June to August.

Allow flexibility

“The immediate effect of this legislation would be to empower the President to move the start of the school year 2020-2021 to September or even later in the event that public health authorities would recommend the postponement of the school year in order to contain the spread of COVID-19,” said Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the basic education committee.

Sen. Joel Villanueva, chair of the higher education committee, said the measure was part of the Senate’s effort to help people transition to the “new normal.”

The measure will allow for flexibility amid the uncertainties stemming from the pandemic, said Villanueva.

The Department of Education (DepEd) on Monday said that enrollment for this school year would not be on a “first-come, first-served” basis after parents without access to internet fretted about their children being left off the rolls during the monthlong virtual enrollment period.

Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said the DepEd had ordered schools to enlist all enrollees and worry about organizing classes later after reports emerged that enrollees at a Manila high school were turned away because it had reached maximum capacity.

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No first-come, first-served

“It’s not going to be first-come, first-served, so we can avoid a situation where those without the capacity to enroll are thrown to farther schools just because others enrolled first,” Malaluan said.

Even as most of the country moved to ease restrictions after economically punishing lockdowns, persistent fears over COVID-19 pushed DepEd to facilitate its first-ever remote enrollment ahead of the Aug. 24 opening of classes.

It also launched its Brigada Eskwala program on Monday, another annual event that has been radically reworked in the time of COVID-19. The initiative typically entailed physical preparation for classes like cleanup drives, but would now focus on equipping schools for distance learning.

The introduction of learning modes like radio-based instruction and self-taught modules have not quelled concerns about a lack of internet access, which was also integral to this month’s enrollment. All face-to-face interaction was banned by DepEd for the first two weeks of June.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers said, however, that it had received reports from educators who struggled during the first day of enrollment.

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TAGS: 2020 school opening, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, DepEd, Rodrigo Duterte, Senate
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