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Students won’t be forced to attend in-person class

Students will not be compelled to join in-person classes that President Duterte allowed to resume in areas considered “low-risk” to coronavirus transmission, or those under modified general community quarantine, the Department of Education (DepEd) said on Tuesday.

Parents, however, are appealing to the government to keep its word of ensuring that a vaccine is already available for all students and teachers before resuming in-person classes, saying they cannot put their children at risk.

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A pilot run of the limited in-person classes will be held from Jan. 11 to 23, after which officials would submit their recommendations on

whether these could be expanded or not.

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In a statement, the DepEd emphasized that students would not be forced to attend the classes and that there must be a “commitment for shared responsibility” among the department, local governments and parents.

Distance learning woes

The President banned in-person classes at the start of the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect children from being infected. But many students, parents and teachers have lamented the problems that come up with distance learning, whether conducted online or through printed modules.

Some students have little or limited access to gadgets and internet connection, which makes it hard for them to keep up with classes.

The printing and distribution of modules to students have also posed a challenge.

Under the DepEd guidelines, parents and guardians will be required to issue written consent allowing their children to participate anew in physical classes, while stringent health and safety standards must be followed at home, during travel to and from schools, and within school premises.

Students will follow a staggered weekly schedule with reduced class sizes, the DepEd said. It did not indicate the maximum number of students allowed per classroom.

Schools in pilot run

Education Secretary Leonor Briones will choose on Dec. 28 the schools that would participate in the pilot run to be conducted in areas with a low number of COVID-19 cases, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Tuesday.

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DepEd regional directors will submit their nominations to Briones until Dec. 18, he said.

The list of public schools will be validated and evaluated for compliance and readiness “with respect to the risk classification, documentation and acknowledgement of shared responsibility, students and classroom management plan, and health standard requirements,” the DepEd said.

“Once selected, the participating schools, [local governments], learners and parents will undergo a thorough process of orientation, mobilization and readiness confirmation before the actual implementation” from Jan. 4 to 8, it said.

The regional reports on the pilot implementation will be submitted from Jan. 25 to 29 for evaluation, after which recommendations will be sent to the President.

Parents worried

Roque said the DepEd and the COVID-19 National Task Force would keep watch on the pilot run of classes.

“If the [local governments] don’t want it, we would not force them to hold the pilot face-to-face [classes],” he added.

Parents like KC, a single mother who works as a tutor for other children, were not convinced about the DepEd’s safety guidelines.

“I will not allow my children to become subjects of an experiment conducted by strangers,” KC said in an online exchange. “If our children get infected with COVID-19, will the school or the government be able to pay for their medication? What if the child is asthmatic? Why are they rushing the resumption of face-to-face classes?”

For its part, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said the Duterte administration must first guarantee that schools had enough water supply, functional clinics and school nurses before giving the go-signal for in-person classes.

“We have had enough of government orders that were not partnered with sufficient funding and ample preparations, as what had happened with distance learning where teachers and learners were ultimately left to fund for [their] needs and fend for themselves,” said Raymond Basilio, ACT secretary general.

He pointed out that low COVID-19 infection rate did not guarantee the safe return to schools, especially since probable areas for the pilot implementation were poor rural localities “where school facilities are least ideal and personnel are most wanting.”

Calabarzon, Bicol

In Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon, one of the regions with a high number of coronavirus infections, at least five schools were being considered for the pilot run, said Wilfredo Cabral, DepEd regional director.

The DepEd is also looking at three more schools for the “program-based,” meaning teachers and students would meet physically outside the school or in a place to be identified by the government, Cabral said.

As of Dec. 14, Calabarzon had recorded 5,189 active COVID-19 cases. Laguna and Rizal were among the five provinces or cities with the highest single day record on Monday, the Department of Health said.

In Bicol, Gilbert Sadsad, DepEd regional director, said his office had already submitted its list of public elementary and K-12 schools that could implement in-person classes in 107 towns and seven cities.

Sadsad said he had recommended that 1,200 or 30 percent of the 3,800 public schools in the region may pursue a blended learning system—a combination of limited in-person classes and home modular or online classes. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARICAR CINCO AND MAR S. ARGUELLES INQ

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