Pilot run of limited face-to-face classes to start Nov. 15

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 6) — The Department of Education (DepEd) on Wednesday said the implementation of the pilot run of in-person classes will begin on November 15.

"Tinaon po natin 'yan doon sa umpisa ng academic quarter two ng ating school calendar," DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan told a Senate Basic Education Committee hearing.

[Translation: We timed it with the start of the academic quarter two of our school calendar.]

The pilot will run until the end of January next year. Education officials are targeting to reopen more schools by March.

"We will already be preparing for assessment of possible expansion schools, so by the time we are able to submit the recommendation to the President, hopefully in favor of bigger expansion, then we will also have ready schools for expansion," Nepomuceno explained.

Only 59 public schools have so far passed the Health department's assessment to carry out face-to-face classes. Most are located in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Students in these schools, however, will not be required to participate since parental consent is still needed.

“Kung may agam-agam po ang mga magulang...nire-require naman po namin ‘yung parent consent para may choice po ang magulang na sa bahay muna ang kanilang mga anak,” DepEd Planning Service Director Roger Masapol told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: We require parental consent, so if the parents have reservations, they’re given the choice to let their children study from home.]

The class size will also be smaller. For instance, only up to 12 kindergarten students are allowed per classroom, from the previous maximum of 25. For Grades 1 to 3, the maximum is set at 16.

Meanwhile, up to 20 senior high school students per class may be allowed, but this would be reduced to 12 if they are in science laboratories or technical vocational livelihood workshops.

Masapol also reiterated that only vaccinated teaching and non-teaching personnel will be included in the pilot, adding that those who refuse to get vaccinated will be assigned to implement distance learning instead.

Based on its latest data, 57% or over 580,000 out of the agency's 970,000 teaching & non-teaching personnel have been inoculated against COVID-19.

The Senate Basic Education panel believes this is far from ideal.

"Nagugulat ako na sobrang baba ng sa DepEd, kasi sa mga ibang departamento, ang tataas na ng vaccination rate nila. Eh ang teachers, isa sa important frontliners," Senator Nancy Binay said.

[Translation: I'm surprised that the vaccination rate is so low in DepEd, when in other departments, the figures are high. Our teachers are among our important frontliners.]

Senators are also pushing the DepEd to fast-track the expansion of the pilot run so more schools can reopen sooner.

Senator Pia Cayetano pointed out that children are not necessarily at higher risk of getting infected if they go back to school.

"They're walking around, going to their neighbors' house unsupervised, walang pasok [when there are no classes]! So can we disabuse ourselves of that image that we are taking them from a very safe space to suddenly an exposure to school," Cayetano said.

There were also questions on the effectiveness of the pilot run if schools in the National Capital Region are not included.

Health officials explained reopening schools in urban areas will be trickier as these mostly remain at moderate or high risk for COVID19.

According to Masapol, DepEd has augmented funds of schools identified as part of the pilot run, so they can better implement health protocols. He added that this is apart from pledges from local government units, non-governmental organizations and civil society groups.