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Gatchalian, Tolentino move to postpone Aug. 24 class opening in MECQ areas

At least two senators moved to postpone the opening of classes in areas under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), less than two weeks before the target date set by the Department of Education (DepEd).

During a Senate hearing, Senate committee on basic education chairperson Sherwin Gatchalian underscored that President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to announce whether Metro Manila and nearby provinces will continue to be under MECQ beyond August 18.

"My recommendation is kung ang areas ay ma-extend ang MECQ, we should just postpone school opening in those areas because hindi natin puwedeng palakarin ang mga guro natin at mga magulang sa isang kondisyon na lumalala," Gatchalian said, noting that distance learning will significantly rely on printed self-learning modules to be delivered house-to-house.

"Kung ang MECQ ay ma-extend we trigger itong bagong batas, itong RA 11480 doon lang po sa lugar," he added.

The senator was referring to the law signed by Duterte last month which allows the President, upon the recommendation of the Education Secretary, to reschedule the opening of classes beyond August either in the entire Philippines or in selected areas in times of state of calamity or emergency.

Senator Francis Tolentino reminded the DepEd that it has only 168 hours left to draft the school opening law's implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

He urged the education officials to consider allowing high-risk areas to open classes at a later date.

"Different localities have varying health circumstances, and hence will need varying approaches in the delivery of education. It will be wise perhaps for DepEd to consider opening classes on a per regional health and connectivity situation basis," he said.

The DepEd vowed to finish the IRR before the deadline and shared that it already conducted a preliminary consultation with stakeholders last August 10.

NCR situation

During the same hearing, DepEd-NCR Regional Director Macolm Garma acknowledged the challenges that will be met if Metro Manila continues to be under MECQ.

"We will admit that in NCR talagang mahihirapan kaming gumalaw but we are trying and exploring everything with the help of our respective LGUs na mai-deliver namin kahit hanggang second week of our modules," Garma said.

"We are now coordinating with the respective LGUs for the possibility of helping the schools to deliver the modules to the respective households or even to the community or barangay with the use of non-teaching personnel that we have," he added.

DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said that they will not put the teachers' and parents' lives at risk if ever the MECQ continues, and that the Learning Continuity Program was specifically designed to adapt to changing situations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said only Education Secretary Leonor Briones can determine whether or not DepEd would consider postponing the August 24 opening of classes in selected areas, adding that the latter is in constant communication with Duterte.

Nonetheless, he said that the senators' suggestion would reach Briones.

Based on DepEd data as of August 11, more than 23 million students have enrolled this school year, equivalent to 83.1% of the enrollment turnout last year.

Of these, more than 21 million enrolled in public schools, over 1.5 million in private schools, and more than 333,000 in the alternative learning system. — BM, GMA News