MANILA (UPDATE) — Elementary and secondary schools will no longer be allowed to implement distance and blended learning by November, the Department of Education has announced as it moved to bring back in-person classes at full capacity.
The DepEd disclosed the policy in a July 11 order, which also contained the calendar for School Year 2022-2023, scheduled to open on August 22.
According to the DepEd order, public and private schools in basic education can implement distance and blended learning only until October 31, 2022.
Starting November 2, schools must shift to 5 days of in-person classes per week, regardless of the alert level status in their localities, Education Undersecretary Epimaco Densing said Tuesday in an online press conference.
“This is mandatory. [Students] are all required to go to school… everybody who is enrolled should abide by the department order and parents are also encouraged to ensure that students go to school,” Densing said.
Densing said the new direction was aimed at “learning recovery,” following more than 2 years of remote learning, which experts say is a less effective approach compared to the traditional classroom setup.
But the DepEd will abide should the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases recommend the suspension of face-to-face classes in areas that may experience surges in COVID-19 cases, said Densing, a former undersecretary at the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
In its order, the DepEd also issued guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the return to full in-person schooling, which includes the mandatory use of face mask, and physical distancing and proper ventilation in classrooms, among others.
Based on the order, learners who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms “shall be immediately excused from in-person classes and shall shift to distance learning.”
“This shall only be required of those who feel well enough to answer modules ort participate in online classes but are in the home or isolation facility. This provision excludes learners who are admitted to hospitals,” the agency noted.
The DepEd added that schools are not liable should any learner or personnel contract COVID-19.
Densing said the DepEd has ordered regional directors to address congestion and ensure physical distancing in classrooms.
The DepEd will also download additional funding to regional directors to help schools prepare for in-person schooling, he added.
A group of private school administrators said they would continue to appeal to Education Secretary Sara Duterte “to allow the hybrid and online options in private schools in addition to face-to-face classes even beyond October 31.”
“Hope we can be heard on behalf of the schools and especially the parents who still prefer their children to have an online component (hybrid) when they go back to face-to-face classes,” Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines Managing Director Joseph Noel Estrada told ABS-CBN News.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Associations of Private Schools and Administrators (FAPSA) said it opposed implementing physical classes at full capacity, arguing that “COVID-19 may not be fully eradicated by November.”
FAPSA President Eleazardo Kasilag said some private schools have accepted students from outside their regions for online classes. “It’s impossible for them to come daily by November or refund their fees,” he said.
Kasilag also questioned who would be responsible for COVID-19 infections in schools.
Meanwhile, the DepEd said SY 2022-2023 would have 203 school days, with classes scheduled to start on August 22 and end on July 7, 2023.
Enrollment for the upcoming SY will run from July 25 until the first day of classes, according to the order.
The Christmas break will start on December 8, with classes resuming on January 4, 2023.
Private schools, and state or local universities and colleges offering basic education may implement the calendar, provided they “start classes not earlier than the first Monday of June and not later than the last day of August.”
The government banned in-person classes in early 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19. Since then, schools shifted to remote learning where students study mostly from their homes via printed and digital modules, online classes, and education programs aired over TV and radio.
In-person classes in basic education resumed in late 2021 in nearly 300 “pilot” schools. Last February, the DepEd kicked off an “expansion,” allowing more schools to hold physical classes.
In higher education, many colleges and universities have opted to implement a blend of limited in-person schooling and remote learning methods.