Classroom availability must be considered when students from all grade levels return to schools to conduct limited face-to-face classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Education (DepEd) said Monday.
The pilot implementation of limited “F2F” classes in 28 public schools in the National Capital Region (NCR) “went smoothly” according to Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan.
But only students who were given consent by their parents were allowed to go back to schools during the pilot run, Malaluan noted.
“This will become an issue when we do for all the grade levels because then, the classroom availability will be a consideration,” he said.
The DepEd allowed 177 more schools to join the pilot run of face-to-face classes starting Monday. This is on top of the 118 schools that were initially approved by the department to conduct the limited face-to-face classes in November.
Only those in kindergarten to Grade 3, as well as senior high school students, are included in the pilot run so far.
Most public school classrooms are built to accommodate a maximum of 65 students without social distancing. DepEd did not have ready figures on the number of classrooms it expected to use for the pilot testing.
But Malaluan said there is sufficient space so far to accommodate the initial number of students returning, as there are classrooms that are not being used by higher levels.
Several schools may also conduct shifts—each in morning and afternoon—to accommodate all learners.
“One possibility there is that we do alternative weeks for the students. It will be difficult to accommodate a single class in the morning and afternoon sessions when we go on full scale of all grade levels,” Malaluan added.
He said only 14 to 16 students are allowed to enter per classroom to ensure physical distancing among students, while the number for senior high may be increased to up to 20.
The DepEd is also looking at giving priority to students to go back to schools depending on the level of their need to do so, such as those who are less able to cope or those who have limited resources such as internet access and their own computers or gadgets to support full distance learning.
“Everyone should have an equal opportunity for access (to schools). There are circumstances that we have to really have a smaller number if that’s a decision that needs to be made. That is when certain prioritization standards come into play,” Malaluan said.
Citing the start of Christmas break on Dec. 20, Malaluan said the 28 Metro Manila public schools would be the last to implement the limited in-person classes.
Earlier, the DepEd recommended an “expanded phase” by the first quarter of 2022.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones instructed the regional directors to advise all public and private schools to prepare using the safety assessment tool from the DepEd and Department of Health (DOH).
On Nov. 15, limited in-person classes started in 100 public schools nationwide. A week after, some 18 private schools pushed through with their pilot face-to-face classes.
Students, teachers, and non-teaching personnel who participated in the pilot face-to-face classes were required to follow various health protocols set by the Quezon City government to ensure everyone’s safety.
The local government of Taguig City also started its limited face-to-face classes on Monday.
City chief education officer George Tizon said a committee composed of members from the DOH, the city’s health office, and DepEd Taguig-Pateros, have come up with necessary standards to ensure the safe conduct of face-to-face classes.
“We have come up with health protocols and standards to ensure the safety of our students. Standards used are efficient and are up to international standards,” he said.
All teachers and non-teaching personnel participating in the pilot implementation of limited face-to-face classes in Quezon City are fully vaccinated.
Select students of two schools in Manila went back to school on Monday after nearly two years for the pilot implementation of limited face-to-face classes.
Malaluan emphasized that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is not mandatory among students who will participate in the in-person classes, but it is for teachers and other school staff.
“Not yet for students—it’s not a requirement, it’s encouraged. It is a requirement for teachers and non-teaching personnel that they are vaccinated to be able to go in person and meet the students,” he said.
DepEd is, however, banking on the vaccination rollout for the school-aged children as this will serve as an additional protection and support of the possible expansion of in-person classes next year.