CHED: Don't hold in-person classes if conditions unfavorable

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 12 2022 11:31 AM | Updated as of Jan 12 2022 08:38 PM

Medical students perform a clinical skills exercise on an electronic dummy during a face-to-face class at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, on June 10, 2021. Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News/File
Medical students perform a clinical skills exercise on an electronic dummy during a face-to-face class at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, on June 10, 2021. Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA (UPDATE) — Colleges and universities in areas under COVID-19 Alert Level 3 can defer the start of their limited in-person classes if "conditions on the ground" are unfavorable, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) said Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, the CHED issued an advisory saying higher education institutions (HEIs) in Alert Level 3 areas can start holding limited in-person classes for all of their degree programs by Jan. 31.

The announcement drew criticism from social media users, who raised concerns given that the country continues to face a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

In an interview with ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo, CHED Chairman Prospero de Vera said Jan. 31 is the earliest date that HEIs can hold in-person classes.

"Iyong Jan. 31, ang ibig sabihin, 'yon ang pinakamaaga na puwede kang magbukas. Pero kung 'yong conditions on the ground [are] not favorable, siyempre, 'wag ka magbukas," he said.

(January 31 is the earliest date that schools can open. But if conditions on the ground are not favorable, of course you shouldn't open.)

"Hopefully, by Jan. 31, you have a better grip on the data, makikita natin kung pababa na [ang COVID cases]. Kung mabagal ang pagbaba, ang magiging desisyon dapat nila ay mag-adjust doon sa conditions on the ground," he added.

(Hopefully by January 31, you have a better grip on the data, and we could already see if COVID cases are going down. If the decrease in cases is low, the school's decision should be adjusted based on the conditions on the ground.)

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De Vera said big public universities in the National Capital Region, which is on Alert Level 3 until Jan. 15, decided that they would start holding in-person classes in February.

"Minove nila para panigurado, bagama't handa na sila," he said.

(They moved it just to be sure, although they are ready.)

Some HEIs in other regions, such as in Eastern Visayas and Caraga, also postponed the start of their limited in-person classes as they continue to recover from the destruction left by Typhoon Odette last December, De Vera said.

Last week, several HEIs canceled limited in-person classes and remote learning activities from Jan. 10 onwards, citing rising COVID-19 cases among students and personnel.

A group of private school administrators said it is in favor of the new CHED policy allowing limited in-person classes in Alert Level 3 areas starting Jan. 31.

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The policy is in line with government guidelines allowing in-person classes at 30-percent capacity in HEIs under Alert Level 3, said Joseph Noel Estrada, managing director of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines (COCOPEA).

But schools should assure students and staff that they are prepared to hold face-to-face instruction, Estrada said.

"Okay na rin na may ganiyang policy that allows it. Pero kailangan maghanda tayo dahil kung hindi rin naman ramdam ng mga eskuwelahan at estudyante na sila'y ligtas, hindi rin naman sila papasok," he said.

(It's okay that there's a policy that allows face-to-face classes. But we have to be ready because if the schools and students don't feel safe, they won't attend classes anyway.)

The Philippine National Police (PNP) said it would monitor the situation in HEIs that plan to resume in-person classes at the end of the month.

"Our primary duty is to make sure the minimum public health standards are strictly observed amid another spike of COVID-19 cases especially in areas under Alert Level 3," said PNP Chief Gen. Dionardo Carlos.

The government banned in-person classes in early 2020 due to the threat of COVID-19, forcing colleges and universities to shift to remote learning.

But since January 2021, some HEIs have been allowed to hold limited in-person classes for select programs such as medicine and engineering.

In November, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases approved a "phased" implementation of in-person classes for all college programs.

HEIS in areas under Alert Level 2 have been allowed to hold classroom sessions since December 2021.