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February 22, 2021

Still No Face-To-Face Classes Amid The Pandemic, Duterte Declares

Still No Face-To-Face Classes Amid The Pandemic, Duterte Declares A member of the Taguig City Sanitation Office disinfects a classroom on March 11, 2020 as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus disease 2019. Photo by Edd Gumban, The Philippine STAR

President Duterte has rejected anew the proposal to conduct pilot in-person classes because of the health risks that teachers and students may face while the government has not started its COVID-19 vaccination program.

Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo maintained her position for the government to consider implementing face-to-face classes in areas without community transmission of COVID-19 such as in remote islands.

"The President has decided that there would be no face-to-face classes yet in the country. The President called me (Sunday) night (Feb. 21) and he said he does not want to place the lives of students and teachers at risk while no one in the country has been inoculated," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a press briefing  on Monday, Feb. 22.

Duterte, however, is open to resuming face-to-face classes in areas with low cases of coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 in August, if the vaccination program, which the government expects to start this month, is implemented as planned.

"I guess what he is anticipating is that since we will begin vaccination this month, we would be way ahead of our vaccination program in August to give us the confidence to resume at least limited face-to-face education," Roque said.

Last December, Duterte approved the proposal of the Department of Education (DepEd) to conduct a dry run of the in-person classes in places with low COVID-19 risks. The pilot face-to-face learning was supposed to start in January but Duterte canceled it because of the emergence of a more infectious COVID-19 strain.

The National Economic and Development Authority revived the proposal to hold a dry-run of in-person classes in low risk areas this month, saying the government has managed to contain the new COVID-19 variants.

Roque said Duterte's decision was without prejudice to any proposal that the Commission on Higher Education may have on the college level. He noted that the government has allowed face-to-face classes in medical and allied medical degrees.

"Well, the President said that as far as face-to-face is concerned, he wants to wait for the vaccine rollout. He did not say everyone should be vaccinated first. If you vaccinate Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao, almost 80 percent of your problem has been solved because we have very few problems in other parts of the Philippines," Roque said in Filipino.

"I think it won't take long before the vaccination process in Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao starts. But I cannot second guess the President," he added.

Roque quoted Duterte as saying: "Steady muna tayo (Let's keep it steady for now)," but was unsure if the President was referring to face-to-face classes or the easing of quarantine restriction to the most lenient modified general community quarantine.

Face-to-face classes possible

Robredo said a recent study by the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed there is minimal transmission of COVID-19 in schools where minimum health and safety protocols like wearing of face masks and physical distancing are followed.

“Here in Camarines Sur, we have so many coastal towns without transmission, so why not allow the children to go to school even just once or twice a week,” the Vice President said in her program over dzXL on Sunday.

The teachers, in particular, can follow-up on the student’s learning through modules and they can also focus on the non-readers, she added.

Robredo pointed out some countries provide funding for the schools in order to prevent the transmission of the virus inside the classroom.

Robredo said the government should not impose a "one-size-fits-all" strategy because the situation in Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao is not that of the whole country.

Last year, there were a lot of coastal communities with poor families that had no community transmission, according to the Vice President.

“The teachers themselves as well as the students and parents are the ones who want to hold face-to-face classes,” Robredo stressed.

She lamented that children who have no gadgets and whose parents are incapable of teaching their children are being left behind.

“The longer the children are out of school, the more they are left behind,” the Vice President said.

Robredo said a study conducted by DepEd showed that more than 50 percent of parents and teachers want to return to face-to-face classes.

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