Calls mount for ‘health break’ in schools as students, teachers fall ill
MANILA, Philippines — On Jan. 3, the first Monday of the year, a Grade 7 student in Quezon City was attending an online class before he had to go to a medical checkup because he was already having a fever.
His younger brother also had a fever and was already lying down in bed, as their mother Rose noticed.
Rose and her husband soon developed the same symptoms and they decided two days later to have a home service antigen test. The whole family was found positive for COVID-19.
“It was difficult and frightening,” said Rose, adding that they had to order their medicines and food online.
The children’s grandfather died only last Saturday after he was also found positive for the coronavirus.
The Grade 7 son still attends online classes conducted by his science high school. He had been spared some domestic chores because of his cough.
“He still does his homework but submits it late,” Rose said.
Her youngest son attended the first week of classes but these were stopped last Friday after school authorities declared a “health break” because more teachers and students were getting sick.
The break was important in order to allow students, teachers and parents to take a rest, Rose said.
She said not everyone could attend online classes if they were feeling ill or stressed.
A teacher’s group has also urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to implement the same health break, or “academic freeze.”
Kristhean Navales, president of Quezon City Public School Teachers Association, said many teachers, students and parents had been ill since the start of classes on Jan. 3.
“It is hard on the teachers’ part because we’re not only teaching, we’re also doing end-of-quarter paperwork and preparations,” he told the Inquirer.
“We saw a decline in the number of responses and students attending our classes because a lot of them are getting sick, either because of COVID, flu or fever,” he said.
According to Vladimer Queta, president of Alliance of Concerned Teachers’ National Capital Region (NCR) Union, many teachers have been showing symptoms of COVID-19.
A teacher at Carlos Albert High School, Queta has himself tested positive for the virus.
Some school division offices, like in Quezon City, have advised teachers to hold “asynchronous classes,” or sessions not conducted simultaneously, even if online classes are supposed to be synchronous, to give consideration to teachers who are ill.
“[The academic freeze] will be an opportunity for families to rest and recover with an option to work on asynchronous tasks when students are able,” said Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte in a letter she wrote Education Secretary Leonor Briones on Monday to appeal for a break for public schools in the city.
Officials of the schools division of Quezon City met on Monday to discuss the “clear-cut mechanisms of schools/teachers to adapt [to] the … situation, [the] critical attack and positivity rate in NCR.”
Schools division offices have no authority to declare such a break, so they need to await guidelines from the DepEd.
Queta said he received a text message from the administration chief of DepEd-NCR advising them to avail themselves of “service credit.”
But not all teachers have service credits, he said, which means their absences would be deducted from their salaries.
“What the teachers need right now is a department that has consideration for teachers, students and the community,” Navales said.
“We hope we will be given at least one week of break from classes to have enough time to regain our strength and immunity,” he added.
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