DepEd moves opening of classes to October 5

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 14) — Basic education classes will resume on October 5 as President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a six-week-long postponement amid the coronavirus crisis.

Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones, in a surprise online press conference on Friday, announced that the President approved her recommendation to move the school opening which was earlier set for August 24.

Briones revealed she made the proposal as early as August 6, citing logistical limitations brought by the imposition of modified enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and in the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, and Laguna.

“We shall use the deferment to provide relief to the logistical limitations faced by the areas placed under MECQ and to fill in the remaining gaps of the school opening that we are currently addressing,” Briones said.

She said there are millions of learners in the MECQ areas, which are under the second strictest community quarantine status until August 18.

Other areas in the country are ordered to push through with their preparations, including orientations, dry runs, and delivery of learning resources.

Lawmakers and several groups have been calling on the government to push back the academic year 2020-2021, saying the schools, teachers, and learners are not ready, even for blended learning which does not require face-to-face classes.

READ: Robredo seeks budget realignments to help with shift to blended education

On August 10, or four days after sending her recommendation to Duterte, Briones rejected fresh calls for postponement, insisting that preparations are underway for the new modes of teaching which involve a mix of internet-based sessions, radio and TV broadcasts, and printed self-learning modules. Briones told reporters on Friday that she had to wait for the President’s final decision.

Why October 5?

The law mandates the school year to start not later than the last day of August, but a measure signed by Duterte in July now allows the President to set a different start date when there’s a state of emergency or calamity.

She also revealed that officials from Calabarzon initially asked for a September 7 opening of classes while those from Metro Manila requested just a week-long postponement. The government decided to go with October 5 so there’s enough “allowance,” she said.

“We trust that this is the final adjustment of the school opening,” Briones said, adding that the country will be “more than ready” by October.

DepEd officials are meeting today to discuss the end date of the school year which should have not more than 220 class days, according to law.

Private schools may continue classes

Although private schools are also under DepEd's regulation, the government will not stop those that have already started their classes, Briones said.

“Ang policy namin, kung nakaumpisa na sila e imonitor yan ng DepEd… pero hindi namin sasabihin na tumigil kayo,” Briones said.

[Translation: Our policy is, if they have started already, DepEd will monitor but we will not ask them to stop.]

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles earlier told CNN Philippines' The Source that learners from public schools could be disadvantaged by the delay in the schedule.

'DepEd not ready'

There were marathon hearings at the Senate and the House of Representatives where some lawmakers have asked the DepEd to delay the resumption of classes. Some groups are even calling for "academic freeze" or no classes at all, citing the impact of COVID-19 which has infected more than 153,000 people, with lockdown restrictions that cost millions of jobs.

READ: Close to 4 million learners did not enroll for next school year due to COVID-19 crisis

Senate Basic Education Committee Chairman Sherwin Gatchalian said the deferment "is the most prudent course of action" and will give the DepEd time to complete the preparations.

ACT Teachers Representative France Castro said it was a "forced admission" that the government was not ready.

"Health, and quality of education must not be sacrificed just for the sake of reopening the school year. The Department of Education must use this time to comprehensively study and implement concrete plans for the safe and quality reopening of schools that will be accessible by every child," she said.