By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
The school opening for this year should not push through without the conduct of mass testing, which will cover both the learners and personnel, including teachers and other non-teaching staff of schools, a federation of teachers on Monday said.
“We are one with parents who worry for the health of their children, whom we also care for as our own,” the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines said. “Until we’re sure of our students’ and colleagues’ safety, there should be no school opening,” it added.
Earlier, the Department of Education (DepEd) has announced that the opening of classes for the basic education would start on August 24, 2020 and end on 30 April 2021.
DepEd said that the school opening has been approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-IED). Based on its Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP), “no face-to-face classes” will be allowed earlier than August 24 and if “face-to-face modality is allowed” in certain areas, there will only be a maximum of 15 to 20 learners in each class in compliance with the social distancing measures set by the health department.
This SY, DepEd said that various learning delivery options such as, but not limited, to face-to-face, blended learnings, distance learnings, and homeschooling, and other modes of delivery will be implemented this school year (SY) 2020-2021 depending on the local COVID Risk Severity Classification and compliance with minimum health standards.
DepEd also announced that teachers would start rendering service this coming June 1 upon completion of summer vacation on May 31. They will attend orientation and training activities on the utilization of the distance learning delivery modalities, prepare instructional materials, and plan the organization of classes in consideration of the learning delivery modalities to be employed.
Test education workers, learners first
ACT Philippines also issued an urgent call to conduct mass testing among education workers in time for the DepEd’s order to start work on June 1. For the group, the measure is very important, especially as many more areas are set to ease quarantine measures by end of May. “No mass testing, no physical reporting,” ACT stressed.
For ACT secretary Raymond Basilio, education workers need to undergo testing first before they are asked to report for work by next month. “This should be completed with test results before we return to work, and without charge,” he explained.
If not done, Basilio noted that the government is risking the spread of COVID-19 further and will render the “two-month lockdown moot and endangering the health of at least two million education workers and their families.”
Citing omnibus guidelines on the implementation of community quarantine in the Philippines, ACT noted that full work force may operate in public offices in areas under the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) and general community quarantine (GCQ), with special work arrangements to be extended to vulnerable populations such as senior citizens, people with co-morbidities, and with risky pregnancy. Given this, ACT urged DepEd to release separate guidelines for its employees at the “soonest possible time.”
In particular, Basilio explained that “mass testing” should cover education workers who have symptoms and exposure to confirmed COVID-19 case/s; don’t have symptoms but have exposure to confirmed COVID-19 case/s; have COVID-19 symptoms but no known exposure to confirmed COVID-19 case/s; and vulnerable populations from the workforce.
The DepEd guidelines, Basilio said, should include information on who will screen and administer test on employees and with assurance that these will be free, and shouldered by the government. “These are crucial not only in ensuring a safe working environment, but also in determining whether the agency may be able to operate should classes open in August,” he said. “We cannot afford to risk the lives of our colleagues and especially not the lives of our students,” he explained.
Basilio also noted that the mass testing should cover learners before the classes officially start on August 24 as announced by DepEd. “Successfully controlling the virus remains to be the biggest requisite for work resumption and school opening,” he said. “No mass testing, no physical reporting and no class opening,” he added.
Aside from mass testing for students, teachers, and other non-teaching staff of DepEd, ACT also underscored the need to “hire medical personnel at the school level.”
Mass testing needs to be ‘defined’ carefully
Meanwhile, an official of the DepEd underscored the need to define “mass testing” first if it would be rolled out.
“There is no decision yet on ‘mass testing’ in DepEd,” DepEd undersecretary and spokesperson Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan said. “There will be a testing protocol/component in health standards, but ‘mass testing’ needs to be defined very carefully [because] it might be misinterpreted as testing all, which may be neither affordable nor needed,” he added.