President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday he is okay with a proposal of the Department of Education (DepEd) to allow limited face-to-face classes in low-risk areas under Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ).
But these classes will only be allowed starting January 2021, not at the start of the school year in August, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque later clarified.
"I'm okay with that," the President told Education Secretary Leonor Briones during Monday night's talk to the nation aired Tuesday morning.
Duterte previously opposed the start of physical classes until a coronavirus vaccine becomes available.
Briones cited studies which showed that "children are not as badly affected by the COVID phenomenon as compared to adults."
Of the total confirmed cases of infection in the country, Briones said only about 4 percent or over 2,000 cases involve children.
She said only 16 recorded COVID-related deaths among children have been recorded so far.
The Education secretary said allowing limited face-to-face learning will also close inquality gaps.
"If we rely heavily on online learning, then you'll have equity problems for those who don't have access to digital equipment," she said.
“Limite, localized face-to-face classes will be made with due coordination between the Department of Education, the concerned local government units and the local health authorities,” she said.
The size of classes also have to be reduced to a maximum of 20 students to observe physical distancing in classrooms, Briones said.
She said the department has received many requests from local chief executives—including those from Siargao and Dinagat Islands, public and international schools for limited face-to-face classes.
Briones said the DepEd has recorded 77 percent total enrolment for the coming school opening on Aug. 24.
However, while 90 percent of public school students have enrolled, only 27 percent are able to return in private schools, forcing many of the latter to close down.
Senator Win Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Basic Education committee, urged DepEd to continue with the distance learning modality and suspend face-to-face classes this coming August 24.
He said this would ensure the protection of Filipino learners, parents and teachers from the COVID-19 disease.
With National Capital Region (NCR) and the rest of the nation slowly opening up, Gatchalian noted that the movement of people has greatly increased, leading to a rise in the number of coronavirus patients over the past three weeks.
"Allowing face-to-face classes will once again enhance the movement of people that might result in infections within our schools. We have seen sudden spike of of COVID-19 cases in provinces that never had cases from the beginning because of LSIs (locally stranded individuals) who were allowed to go home," said Gatchalian.
"We don't want a scenario where physical classes will be opened but will eventually be suspended again beacuse of infections in their respective areas," he added.
"Our children are our greatest wealth and their well-being should be protected at all cost," said Gatchalian.