MANILA— Several senators have welcomed the approval of a pilot testing of limited in-person classes in areas with low risk for COVID-19, with one lawmaker urging the government to roll out vaccination for school-age children below 18.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said the government should assure parents that their children would remain safe while participating in the dry run by ramping up vaccinations for school staff and kicking off the inoculation of minors.
"Aside from vaccinating our teachers, the crucial next step is opening our COVID-19 vaccination program to our minors aged 12 [to] 17," Gatchalian, chair of the Senate basic education committee, said in a statement on Monday.
The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna for minors but the Department of Health has yet to recommend vaccination for children.
Sen. Nancy Binay, meanwhile, said she was confident that the Department of Education (DepEd) would prioritize the safety of students and teachers.
"We expect that DepEd has already done mapping schools that are compliant and retrofitted based on new normal standards," she said in a statement.
"Ito na ang realidad (This is the reality). We need to embrace the new normal," she added.
For Sen. Imee Marcos, the approval of the planned dry run was just the "first step" in a longer process of reopening schools.
"At least, may go-signal na at puwede nang aksyunan (At least there's a go-signal and we can already act)," Marcos said.
"Ang importante ay makabalik na ang mga bata sa pinakamainam na kapaligiran para sa kanilang pag-aaral kung saan may tamang pamamaraan ng pagtuturo, disiplina, at interaksyon."
(What's important is for children to return to the most appropriate environment for learning, where there is a correct way of teaching, disciplining and interaction.)
On Monday, Malacañang announced that President Rodrigo Duterte approved the 2-month dry run, which would take place in 100 public and 20 private schools in areas classified as low risk for COVID-19.
The Department of Education has yet to set a date for the start of the pilot test, but Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the program would be implemented soon.
The planned dry run's approval was met with mixed reactions from 2 teachers' groups.
The Teachers' Dignity Coalition (TDC) said it was still dangerous to hold face-to-face classes, citing the continued rise in COVID-19 cases in the country.
"Hindi pa rin naisasaayos ang COVID response ng ating pamahalaan at patunay dito ang lampas 20,000 bagong kaso na naitatala halos araw-araw sa nakalipas na linggo," the TDC said in a statement.
(The government has yet to fix its COVID response. Proof of this is the more than 20,000 new cases that the country has been recording almost every day for the past week.)
"Kaya kung itutulak ang in-person classes ay tila isinusubo sa panganib ang mga mamamayan, lalo na ang mga bata," it said.
(It's like we're pushing our people, especially the children, to danger with this planned in-person classes.)
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers, on the other hand, considered the approval a "significant step towards improving the delivery of education amid the pandemic."
The National Parents Teachers Association (PTA) expressed support for the program, saying face-to-face classes was needed especially in far-flung areas with limited access to the internet.
"Maganda naman [ang] guidelines. It depends sa magulang... hindi sapilitan," National PTA President Willy Rodriguez said in a text message.
(The guidelines look good. It depends on the parents... No one is forced to participate.)
The DepEd earlier said participation in the dry run was voluntary, with students required to secure written consent from their parents.
The United Nations (UN) in the Philippines, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) also lauded the government for approving the pilot run.
In a joint statement, the UN, UNICEF and WHO also said they would "continue to work closely with the government in support of safe in-person learning beginning with the pilot schools."
In a Facebook post, the National Union of Students of the Philippines urged the public to "scrutinize the state's preparations leading up to the pilot classes."
Prior to the pilot test's approval, the Philippines was one of 2 countries in the world that have yet to reopen schools since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.
— With reports from Arra Perez and Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News