Teachers call for ‘widest consultation’ on school opening amid COVID-19 crisis


By Merlina Hernando-Malipot

A teachers group on May 18, Monday, called for a “wide consultation” on school opening - noting that there are issues and concerns by stakeholders such as parents, teachers and learners that have to be taken into consideration first before classes formally open in August as announced by the Department of Education (DepEd).

TDC National Chairperson Benjo Basas (Teachers' Dignity Coalition / MANILA BULLETIN) TDC National Chairperson Benjo Basas
(Teachers' Dignity Coalition / MANILA BULLETIN)

Teachers Dignity Coalition (TDC), a 30,000-strong group, said that a wide consultation should be undertaken first before classes for School Year (SY) 2020-2021 formally start.

“We recognize the efforts of the DepEd to spare children’s education in the casualties of the COVID-related crisis,” TDC National Chairperson Benjo Basas said.

While TDC agrees that education must continue amidst the pandemic, Basas noted that “it is undeniable that most of the parents and perhaps even teachers are wary of the posturing that things would be easy under the ‘new normal’ condition.”

Basas noted that the social media pages of DepEd are “bombarded with questions on common concerns from the stakeholders—the accessibility and efficiency of online or distant learning and the safety of children and school personnel in face to face or physical schooling.”

For TDC, the “opinions and suggestions and even the worries and sentiments of the greatest number of stakeholders should not be disregarded.”

While DepEd conducted an online survey on school opening in April, Basas said that there “are concerns that may not have been covered by the online survey—thus, these concerns must be properly addressed and be considered.”

Given that there is opposition on school opening set in August, TDC calls for a “widest consultation possible” with all education stakeholders.

“To succeed in our common efforts to deliver education service to the Filipino children, we have to convince the parents to send their children to schools and we have to ease the fears and reservations of our front liners- the teachers,” Basas said.

For TDC, since schools are traditionally considered as a second home—where children spend more active time with their peers and teachers than their parents—these should be a “safe zone” for them.

To make this possible, the group said that a free mass testing for both teachers and learners “may be a requirement prior to physical schooling.”

Earlier, DepEd revealed its Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP) which outlined the guidelines for SY 2020-2021. DepEd said that opening of classes for the basic education shall be on August 24, 2020 and will end on April 30, 2021.

No face-to-face classes will be allowed earlier than August 24 but onwards, face-to-face learning may be allowed only “when the local risk severity grading permits, and subject to compliance with minimum health standards.

DepEd also directed schools to adopt various learning delivery options and has cancelled the conduct of curricular and co-curricular activities involving gatherings except those conducted online. To prepare for the school opening, DepEd requires teachers to start rendering services starting June 1—either physically or virtually.

Briones said that DepEd acknowledges the “fears and apprehensions” of learners, parents and teachers that attending schools in August “might still not be safe” in light of COVID-19.

However, she assured that DepEd would implement a safe back to schools program, which consists of health standards that will ensure everyone’s safety in areas that will already allow physical attendance in schools.

Given the anticipated disruptions in face-to-face holding of classes and the need for social distancing, Briones said that “distance learning will be a major component of learning delivery for the incoming school year.”

“I similarly acknowledge the fears and apprehensions of our learners, parents and teachers, that we might not be ready for distance learning, with issues about access to online platforms and availability of gadgets,” Briones said.

“I assure everyone that we are working double time to ready our system, at the central and field units, to deliver accessible and quality distance education,” she added.

As DepEd seeks the cooperation of all to have an “open mind” on how school opening will be done, Briones maintained that “at the end of the day, after we have given our explanations, the parents will have the final decision whether to allow their children to proceed.”