By Claudeth Mocon-Ciriaco, September 27, 2021; Business Mirror
THE Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Health (DOH) on Monday identified mechanisms to ensure safety of participating learners, teaching and non-teaching staff, and their families in the pilot implementation of limited face-to-face classes in select low-risk areas.
At the virtual signing and press briefing on the DepEd-DOH Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) for the Pilot Implementation of Face-to-Face Learning Modality, Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones said DepEd has been “proactive” in planning for safe return to schools.
“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,” Briones said. Their utmost priority is the health and safety of learners and teachers while ensuring that learning happens and learning gaps are addressed, she added.
“This will only be applicable for the schools that passed the strict vetting process by DepEd and DOH, and have the support of their respective local government units,” Briones said.
She said DepEd’s duty “is to see to it to make sure that we secure the consent of the local government units where the pilot studies will be conducted.” Second, they must secure the parents’ written consent to the participation of their children in this pilot study. DepEd will ensure that classrooms and facilities used for the pilot study will conform to the standards and the risk assessments of DOH, according to Briones.
“Finally, we are campaigning for the full cooperation of the public, especially those who render services to the schools like transportation, canteens, books, uniforms and all goods which are utilized in the education process,” Briones stressed.
The pilot implementation will be done in a maximum of 120 schools —95 elementary schools, 5 senior high schools that need workshops and laboratories, and 20 private schools will be part of the pilot study- across the country, prioritizing Key Stage 1 learners (Kinder to Grade 3), after passing the School Readiness Assessment by DepEd and LGUs.
DepEd and DOH crafted the operational guidelines on the pilot implementation of face-to-face learning.
DepEd Undersecretary and Chief of Staff of the Office of the Secretary Nepomuceno A. Malaluan said 638 schools are undergoing validation by the DOH in terms of health-risk assessment.
Schools that will participate will be named once the list is released by DOH.
Briones said the pilot will feature a combined implementation of face-to-face classes and distance learning.
The DepEd and DOH said the guidelines for the pilot implementation sets standards on the readiness of schools for reopening.
It implements the Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Reintegrate framework highlighting the importance of availability of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, proper ventilation in classrooms, ensuring that classroom layouts 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 T. Duque III said.
DepEd also drafted a contingency plan with recommended actions for different scenarios.
The scenarios range from where there is a suspected case presenting symptoms, to a scenario of a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in multiple barangays. This sets the policy on when schools should impose a lockdown.
Besides the JMC, guidelines on the contingency plan in carrying out the pilot face-to-face classes will also be issued, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
“So we are now anticipating that if ever there would be infections, we would be able to manage because of the protocols that we are going to institute,” Vergeire said.
Meanwhile, DepEd Undersecretary for Finance Anne Sevilla assured the public that DepEd has funding cover and authorization to spend for prevention, protection and compliance with Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) protocols under limited pilot implementation.
The two agencies also agreed that teachers joining the pilot implementation should be vaccinated against Covid-19.
While vaccination is not mandatory, Duque stressed, 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.