New law allowing adjustments in school opening draws mixed reactions from teachers

Published July 20, 2020, 2:29 PM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

Teachers groups expressed mixed reactions Monday on the newly-signed law allowing the President — upon the recommendation of the Department of Education (DepEd) — to make the necessary adjustments in school opening during national emergencies.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines and the Teacher’s Dignity Coalition (TDC) aired their respective views on the signing of the Republic Act No. 11480, which amended RA 7797 setting the school opening between the first Monday of June to the last day of August.

TDC welcomed the signing of the RA 11480 which was a consolidation of the Senate Bill 1541 and the House Bill 6895 approved by the respective chambers late May of this year.

“The need for this law is urgent,” said TDC National Chairperson Benjo Basas. The new law  amended RA 7797, which sets the school opening between the first Monday of June to the day of August, and maintained the preference for the current school calendar but would empower the President, upon the recommendation of the DepEd Secretary to set a different date for the start of the school year.

Basas noted that weeks before the scheduled opening of classes on Aug. 24, “we are all witness to the unabated rise of COVID cases.” Latest data shows that there are more than 67,000 COVID-19 cases in the country. This surpassed the estimates of the experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) that coronavirus cases could shoot up to 40,000 by the end of June.

“While the DepEd will use new modalities, it is still undeniable that movement of people involved in education service will still be necessary, and we are talking about a million DepEd personnel that would cater to some 22 million children, albeit online, modular or any sort of distance modality,” Basas said.

Meanwhile, the TDC continues to raise concerns on the preparedness of DepEd to facilitate distance learning citing the lack of necessary materials like Internet connectivity, radio, and TV broadcast facilities and even printed modules for the so-called distance learning modality. “On top of this, the continuous rise in the number of COVID-19 cases should also be the main concern of the government when it finally decides to push through with the opening of the new school year next month” Basas warned.

Basas, who participated in some congressional hearings for this legislation, said that the law will not halt the scheduled school opening in August, but “would rather give prerogative to the President to decide on the date of school opening for future emergencies or any fortuitous event that would make schooling impractical.”

 As TDC welcomes the legislation, Basas expressed hope that the President will exercise the power provided by this law and his prerogative “to move the opening of classes this year, if he finds it necessary.”

“In this period of uncertainty, the utmost care for health and safety of the people should be the greatest priority, and moving the school calendar beyond August would surely help our fight against the pandemic,” Basas said.

The TDC, citing studies from UP Resilience Institute that the safe school opening is after December 2020 and the obvious lack of infrastructure and capacity of the school system for distance learning agreed that “school year 2020-2021 opening may be moved to January 2021.”

For ACT, the signing of the law could only “temporarily allay” some of the worries especially of parents. However, “the bigger tasks of doing the essential steps to enable the safe opening of classes and ensure accessible and quality education remain primary and urgent” remain unclear.

“Moving the date of the school opening is only as good as buying the government the needed time to control the infection rate and address unemployment, install preventive measures in schools, and swiftly complete the requirements of the various learning modalities,” ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio said.