By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
An international group promoting children’s rights on Monday welcomed the move of the Department of Education (DepEd) to resume classes starting Feb. 3 for thousands of learners affected by the Jan. 12 Taal Volcano eruption.
Save the Children Philippines (SCP) said DepEd’s decision is very important, as the resumption of classes “helps restore normalcy in the lives of children.”
DepEd also adjusted the school calendar to allow learners to complete the number of school days lost due to the suspension of classes.
However, the child rights organization expressed its concern for schools within the 14-kilometer danger zone, where classes remain suspended unless the city or municipal mayor and/or DepEd, including the principal or head teacher, decide to resume classes.
DepEd’s latest data showed 562,428 learners in 1,022 schools in seven divisions of Region IV-A are affected by Taal Volcano’s unrest.
Earlier, DepEd recommended that classes of Taal-affected learners resume starting Feb. 3 as long as the schools are deemed ready.
However, DepEd data as of Feb. 2 showed there are still 223 schools and 1,854 classrooms being used as evacuation centers (ECs). There are also 10,767 learners staying in these ECs. Classes at all levels in 1,010 schools directly affecting 548, 672 learners have remained suspended since Jan. 13.
SCP said thousands of learners “have been missing out on classes for almost a month.” Hundreds of children were also “forced out of their homes located in the 14-kilometer danger zone of Taal, while the rest are enrolled in schools deeply buried in ash fall, and still without water and electricity or being used as evacuation centers.”
Given this, SCP Chief Executive Officer lawyer Albert Muyot appealed to local governments in areas outside the 14-kilometer danger zone to “ensure classes will resume” based on DepEd’s recommendation.
“We call on schools to accommodate displaced learners to attend classes even without presenting school records,” said Muyot, a former DepEd undersecretary.
He also urged schools to “accommodate students who live within the areas to avoid putting burden on their families’ transportation allowance and to mitigate risks of children traveling in unusual places for them.”
Save the Children has advocated the enactment of Republic Act No. 10821, known as the Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act, that prioritizes the needs of children and pregnant and lactating mothers in times of natural calamities and emergencies.
The law prohibits the use of classrooms as evacuation centers beyond the 15-day period. It directs local governments to locate alternative places as evacuation centers.
Meanwhile, SCP Humanitarian Manager Jerome Balinton said the organization will support the displaced learners with psychosocial support and the provision of school supplies and children hygiene kit.
To date, Save the Children has already deployed three emergency teams to Balayan, Batangas to conduct activities under Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) where children can learn and play in a secured environment.
The team also distributed family hygiene and household kits to evacuees to ensure children are safe from preventable diseases.