MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Health (DOH) on Monday signed the guidelines for the pilot implementation of in-person classes in selected areas deemed as low-risk for COVID-19.
The DepEd said the guidelines contain mechanisms to ensure safety of participating learners, teaching and non-teaching staff, and their families.
“Our utmost priority is the health and safety of our learners and teachers while ensuring that learning happens and learning gaps are addressed. We have been proactive in planning for safe return to schools,” Education Secretary Leonor Briones said.
“The operational guideline for the pilot run of face-to-face classes is a product of our collaboration with DOH, in consultation with various stakeholders, including child health experts,” she added.
Briones stressed that the guidelines will only be applicable for schools that passed the strict vetting process of DepEd and DOH, and have the support of their respective local government units.
The pilot test will be conducted in 120 schools across the country that have passed the School Readiness Assessment conducted by DepEd and concerned local government units.
The guidelines set standards on the readiness of schools for re-opening. It implements the Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Reintegrate (PDITR) framework highlighting the importance of availability of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities.
The guidelines also emphasized the need for proper ventilation in classrooms, room layouts that will enable physical distancing between persons, prioritization of students who will benefit most from limited face-to-face learning modality, management of foot traffic, and conduct of simulation activities prior to implementation of the pilot, among others.
“We want to ensure that we provide safe learning spaces for children during this pandemic. The pilot run will be a shared responsibility among DOH, DepEd and local government units to ensure that mechanisms are in place from prevention of COVID-19 infection to reintegration of recovered patients,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.
“It is also a shared responsibility among school management, teachers, and families for ensuring that all minimum public health standards are observed and possible COVID-19 cases are detected early through regular symptoms screening and reporting,” he added.
Teachers and school personnel participating in the program should be fully vaccinated, must be aged 65 and below, and have no co-morbidities.
“We are committed to providing additional protection for our teachers through vaccination. While vaccination is not mandatory, classroom learning will be limited to vaccinated teaching personnel. So as not to disenfranchise unvaccinated teachers, they may teach using distance or online modules. This also presents options for parents who are still hesitant to send their children to school,” Duque said.
Under the guidelines, Kindergarten class will have a maximum of 12 learners, while Grade 1 to 3 classes will have 16 students. Technical-Vocation classes in five senior high schools may have 20 learners.
Learners in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will only spend a maximum of 3 hours in school while senior high school students will have 4 hours.
The pilot will feature a combined implementation of face-to-face classes and distance learning.
DepEd assured it has drafted a contingency plan with recommended actions for various scenarios, which range from where there is a suspected case presenting symptoms, to a scenario where there is resurgence of COVID-19 cases in multiple barangays. This sets the policy on when schools should impose a lockdown.
“With the help of DOH and other local partners, we will soon orient those who will be involved in the pilot run and coordinate with them regarding the prioritization of their vaccination in case our participating teachers and other non-teaching personnel haven’t completed their vaccines yet,” Briones said.
The government has yet to announce the exact date of the pilot run for physical classes, as well as the list of participating schools.
The dry run will be carried out for two months. Its expansion will depend on the result of the evaluation of the pilot test.