MANILA (UPDATE)-- President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law a bill that allows him to adjust the opening of classes during a state of emergency or calamity.
Republic Act No. 11480 amends Republic Act 7797 also known as “An Act to Lengthen the School Calendar from Two Hundred (200) Days to Not More Than Two Hundred Twenty (220) Class Days," which states that the opening of classes should be between the first Monday of June to the last day of August.
With the new law, the President, upon the recommendation of the education secretary, may set a different date for the start of the school year during a state of emergency or calamity in the entire country or in select areas.
It also authorizes the holding of Saturday classes for both public and private schools and provides the education secretary with power to determine the end of the school year with consideration of the Christmas and summer breaks, and the "peculiar circumstances" of each region.
Duterte signed the new law on July 17, a copy of which was obtained by ABS-CBN News on Monday.
It will take effect immediately upon publication in the Official Gazette or in a newspaper of general circulation.
In a phone interview, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the opening of classes was still scheduled on August 24 despite the new law.
The Department of Education earlier set the start of the school year on August 24, based on widespread consultation with stakeholders and in line with RA 7797.
The DepEd is also set to implement an unprecedented distance learning plan since in-person classes remain suspended due to the continuing threat of the coronavirus disease.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said the new law could "allay temporarily some of the worries" on the start of the school year but government still needed to ensure safe opening of classes and access to quality education.
"Moving the date of the school opening is only as good as buying the government the needed time to control the infection rate and address unemployment, install preventive measures in schools, and swiftly complete the requirements of the various learning modalities," the teachers' group said in a statement.
"It would have been more reassuring if the President's signing of the law was partnered with his allocation of sufficient funding to address the many shortages in education that makes school opening precarious at the moment," ACT said.
Some 21.5 million learners have enrolled in public and private schools nationwide, according to DepEd data as of Monday morning.
The figure was 77.5 percent of 27.7 million, which was the total number of enrolled students in the previous school year.
The DepEd said it was expecting figures to go up in the coming days since enrollment in private schools is still ongoing while public schools would continue to accept late enrollees until September.
-- With a report from Joyce Balancio and Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News