The Department of Education (DepEd) said Monday that classroom availability must be put to consideration when students from all grade levels return to schools to conduct limited face-to-face classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said this during an interview on CNN Philippines, noting that so far, only students who were given consent by their parents were allowed to go back to schools during the pilot run of the limited in-person classes.
“This will become an issue when we do for all the grade levels because then, the classroom availability will be a consideration,” he said.
The DepEd allowed 177 more schools, including 28 public schools from Metro Manila, to join the pilot run of face-to-face classes starting Monday. This is on top of the 118 schools that were initially approved by DepEd to conduct the limited face-to-face classes in November.
So far, only those in Kindergarten to Grade 3, as well as senior high school students, are included in the pilot run.
“One possibility there is that we do alternative weeks for the students. It will be difficult to accommodate a single class in the morning and afternoon sessions when we go on full scale of all grade levels,” Malaluan added.
He, however, said there is sufficient space so far to accommodate the initial number of students returning, as there are classrooms that are not being used by higher levels. Several schools may also conduct shifts—each in morning and afternoon—to accommodate all learners.
He said that only 14 to 16 students are allowed to enter per classroom to ensure physical distancing among students, while the number for senior high may be increased to up to 20.
The DepEd is also looking at the possibility of giving priority to students to go back to schools depending on the level of their need to do so such as those who are less able to cope or those who have limited resources to support full distance learning.
“Everyone should have an equal opportunity for access (to schools). May mga pagkakataon na (there are circumstances that) we have to really have a smaller number if that’s a decision that needs to be made. That is when certain prioritization standards come into play,” Malaluan said.
He emphasized that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is not mandatory among students who will participate in the in-person classes, but it is for teachers and other school staff.
“Not yet for students—it’s not a requirement, it’s encouraged. It is a requirement for teachers and non-teaching personnel that they are vaccinated to be able to go in person and meet the students,” he said.
He added that DepEd is, however, banking on the vaccination rollout for the school-aged children as this will serve as an additional protection and support of the possible expansion of in-person classes next year.
In a Laging Handa interview, Malalauan said they are constantly coordinating with the Department of Health (DOH) regarding the public health matter of the students, especially with concerns over the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
“So far, ngayon, wala pang additional na abiso (there is no advice). Our existing protocols are sufficient based on existing situation. Kung magkakaroon ng pagbabago diyan (if there will be changes), we anticipate that it will figure in the alert level system or change in the health and safety standards,” he said.
He added the education sector is not disregarding the possibility that there may be changes in the implementation of the face-to-face classes, but they will heavily rely on the assessment of their counterparts in DOH.
Malaluan said that no COVID-19 reports have been reported so far among participating learners and school personnel.
“So far, wala tayong naitatala na (we have not reported any) actual confirmed positive case of COVID in all of our participating pilot schools and sana magpatuloy ‘yan (we hope that this will continue) in the coming days,” he said, noting that some were found to have flu-like symptoms during the health screening but were not yet confirmed positive, and are being monitored.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Omicron as a variant of concern. The global organization said it is not yet clear if the variant is more transmissible compared to other variants or if it causes a more severe disease. — RSJ, GMA News