MANILA - A group of private school administrators said Sunday that they are looking at August as a "realistic" month to start the next school year to avoid educational institutions from laying off employees or shutting down.
A delay in the opening of the school year might hurt private schools financially, and force them to downsize or close, said Joseph Noel Estrada, managing director of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (Cocopea), which counts 2,500 member schools nationwide.
The group issued the statement following the recommendation of the Interagency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases that classes shouldn't start until September.
Estrada said classes do not need to be "face-to-face" if private schools are allowed to start delivering lessons in August or earlier months.
"The later we start school, the operations, of course, the more costs it will be for the schools to absorb. Right now, they don't have the funds to pay their teachers," he said in an interview.
Estrada warned that teachers might change careers because of the delay in their salaries.
Around 500,000 private school employees — both teaching and non-teaching personnel — have been affected by the coronavirus crisis, either receiving reduced income or no income at all under the "no work, no pay" scheme, according to Estrada.
START CLASSES IN AUGUST
An August opening, Estrada explained, will give private schools more time to identify alternative modes of learning and train its teachers.
"We're not saying naman na we go straight to face-to-face learning, open our schools. But we have to look at and explore flexible learning options," he said.
Estrada said some private schools are prepared to start classes as early as July since they have been implementing other alternative modes of learning, such as online, even before the coronavirus crisis.
Republic Act No. 7977 states that the opening of classes should take place between "the first Monday of June but not later than the last day of August."
If the government decides to follow the IATF's recommendation to keep schools closed until September, Estrada said private schools can still start classes earlier, but eschew face-to-face teaching in favor of "other delivery modes."
"We can start with other delivery modes, flexible learning options and then if we're looking at face-to-face learning, then we can have it September," he said.
A late start may shorten the next and subsequent school years, and provide insufficient learning for students, he said.
Estrada added that there were other ways to deliver education for those without access to the internet, such as home schooling administered by parents but guided by teachers.
The Department of Education (DepEd) said it was leaning toward opening the next school year in August, based on consultations with stakeholders and experts.
The DepEd is set to present its recommendations on the opening of classes and other education policies to the IATF in early May.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones earlier said she will propose to include private school teachers among those who receive government aid under the Bayanihan Law.
Several parts of the country, including Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces, remain under enhanced community quarantine until May 15 to control the spread of COVID-19.