No backing down: Briones says classes will open on August 24 ‘whatever form it is’

Despite calls for delaying classes, Education Secretary Leonor Briones reiterated on Wednesday night, July 15, that classes would open on August 24. 

“Hindi kami nagbabago sa aming stand, Mr President, na maximum August 24 talaga. Kasi sa batas last day of August. Last day of August ay weekend. Sa August 24 magbubukas na ang klase whatever form it is,” Briones told President Rodrigo Duterte in a meeting aired on Wednesday night. 

(Our stand on class opening, Mr President, remains, which is on August 24. Because the law says it should be on the last day of August. The last day of August falls on the weekend. Classes will open on August 24 whatever form it is.)

Briones cited her department's simulation of distance learning in Navotas City, which she said was, “very successful.”

“Tapos mayroon din na maliit na eskuwelahan sa Siquijor blended din ang approach nila. Mga bata binibigyan ng reading materials. Ang munisipyo nagbigay ng pera sa kanila. Kaniya-kaniyang diskarte, kaniya-kaniyang adjust. Depende kung ano ang available na paraan,” Briones said. 

(There is also a small school in Siquijor that uses a blended approach. Children are given reading materials. The local government gave them money. They have their own ways, they adjust.)

Briones added: “Ang bottom line, patuloy ang pag-aaral ng mga bata (The bottom line is that the children's education will continue).

Proposal: face-to-face classes in low-risk areas

Briones was also proposing to the President to allow face-to-face classes in low-risk areas. 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III supported Briones’ proposal and defended it to Duterte, citing the longer case doubling time in areas under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) and the low utilization rate of healthcare systems in those areas.

“Sang ayon po ako kung puwede po na aprubahan po ninyo, Mr President, dahil gagawin naman nila sa MGCQ low risk. Ang ibig sabihin po nito number 1 ang case doubling time; kung mayroon man pong kaso doon ay aabot more than 28 days so matagal bago magdoble so kakaunti,” Duque said. 

(I agree that you should approve this, Mr President, because they’re going to do this in MGCQ low-risk areas. That means, number 1, the case doubling time, if there are cases there, is more than 28 days so it will take time for the cases to double.)

Duque also said that if the areas don’t have recorded cases in the past 28 days, face-to-face classes may be allowed. 

“Pangatlo, ‘yung kanilang mga critical yung health system capacity po na lugar na iyon ay mababang mababa ng ginagamit less than 30%,” Duque said.  (Third, their critical healthcare capacity is not being utilized – less than 30%.)

The proposal of only 10 students in a classroom is also aligned with the engineering controls of physical distancing, Duque said. 

"Okay po iyon (That's okay), Mr President. We strongly recommend it, Mr President," Duque said.

Duterte has yet to decide on the matter.

In May, experts at the University of the Philippines warned that transmission of COVID-19 may increase should face-to-face classes open in Metro Manila schools in August and September. 

Many have criticized the DepEd's decision to open schools in the middle of a health crisis. (READ: No student left behind? During pandemic, education 'only for those who can afford')

Parents and students pointed out that the coronavirus lockdown affected household finances, and many Filipinos don't even have access to a computer or the internet. The President himself doubted the country's capability to implement distance learning. (READ: Duterte on DepEd's distance learning: 'I don't know if we're ready')

The DepEd decided to shift to distance learning for the coming school year to comply with the President's directive for schools to postpone face-to-face classes until a coronavirus vaccine becomes available.

Distance learning will be implemented in 3 ways – through online classes, printed materials, and broadcasting classes through television and radio. (READ: FAST FACTS: DepEd's distance learning)

On the last day of enrollment on Wednesday, DepEd records showed that over 20.2 million students signed up for the class opening. This is just 73% of last year’s 27.7 million students. (READ: Alliance of Concerned Teachers hits DepEd as 7 million students still unenrolled)

Citing a DepEd memorandum, Undersecretary Jesus Mateo told reporters that schools can accept late enrollees provided that a student "will be able to meet 80% of the prescribed number of school days for each school year and the quarterly requirement to pass the grade level as governed by the latest existing applicable DepEd issuances."

In a virtual press briefing on July 1, Briones said DepEd anticipates a lower turnout in general, as they understand that not all parents can enroll their children in school due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The DepEd estimated an enrollment turnout this year of 80%

As of Wednesday, the Philippines recorded 58,850 confirmed cases of the disease, including 1,614 deaths and 20,976 recoveries. – Rappler.com

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.

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