MANILA (UPDATE) — The Department of Education is allowing its local officials to suspend classes and other teaching-related activities amid the rise in COVID-19 cases in the country, an education official said Thursday.
In a memorandum issued Wednesday, the agency authorized its regional offices and school division offices to suspend classes this month based on their reliable assessment of health status of their teachers and learners, and the prevailing COVID-19 risk classification of their locality.
"The ROs/SDOs shall decide on the specific dates and number of days for the suspension of classes as long as the period of class suspension does not exceed 2 weeks in order to avoid a prolonged disruption in the current school calendar," the memorandum read.
According to DepEd, all synchronous and asynchronous classes will be put on hold, while submission of academic requirements and conduct of other teaching-related activities must be moved to a later date during the suspension of classes.
For late submission of requirements, accommodations must be afforded for those with valid reasons, it added.
The DepEd said ROs/SDOs must ensure that the number of school days in the current school year remains in accordance with Republic Act 11480, which amends Section 3 of RA 7797 also known as “An act to lengthen the school calendar from 200 days to not more than 220 class days.”
The agency reiterated its policy on academic ease "to ensure flexibility in the teaching-learning process amid the pandemic by recalibrating the strategy of assigning teaching responsibilities and learning activities in order to safeguard the well-being of both teachers and learners."
For private schools, the DepEd said they may exercise their own discretion to suspend classes and K to 12 learning activities "when COVID-19 risks in their respective areas are high."
"All DepEd personnel, teachers and learners are highly encouraged to remain vigilant, observe health and safety protocols and follow IATF guidelines," the agency said.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and Teachers' Dignity Coalition earlier called for "health breaks" in public schools, saying many educators and students have gotten sick showing either flu-like symptoms or those of COVID-19.
But the DepEd has said it could not declare a nationwide break since the COVID-19 situation is different across the country.
"Mahirap gawin na nationwide ito sapagkat this will seriously affect [our learning process and school calendars]," Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan told TeleRadyo in an interview Thursday.
In a statement reacting to the memorandum, ACT said the DepEd Central Office should take "a decisive action to declare the two-week health break" instead of passing the decision to local offices, arguing that more parts of the country have been placed on Alert Level 3.
"Ang pagpapasa nito sa nakabababang opisina ay magpapatagal lamang at magkakait pa ng kagyat na pahingang kailangan ng mga guro at estudyante," ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio said.
(Passing the decision to lower offices would only cause delays, and deny teachers and students of the rest they urgently need.)
The TDC, meanwhile, welcomed DepEd's latest policy on class suspension.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian also supported calls for a 2-week health break for teachers and students amid rising coronavirus infections.
"Since the Omicron variant is spreading like wildfire in the country, I support the imposition of a health break for our teachers and students especially for those who are in areas that have been placed under Alert Level 3," said the lawmaker who chairs the Senate committee on Basic Education.
"Since the pandemic started, our education frontliners have already been under a lot of strain. By giving them a health break, we hope to give them ample time to address their healthcare concerns, including the needs of their families," he added.
The senator also called for regular COVID-19 testing for teachers and non-teaching staff.
"When they test positive, they should be able to count on the government for support when it comes to their treatment," he said.
Gatchalian urged the government to intensify COVID-19 vaccination for teachers and learners " to protect them from the risks of infection, severe disease, hospitalization, and death."