MANILA (UPDATE) — The Department of Education said Wednesday it would start the pilot implementation of limited in-person classes on November 15.
At a Senate hearing, Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan bared the timeline for the pilot implementation, which was met with criticism by several lawmakers.
The actual start of classroom instruction will be on November 15, which Malaluan said coincides with the start of the second quarter of School Year 2021-2022.
The pilot study will end on January 31, 2022, after which officials will conduct an evaluation and start identifying schools for the implementation's expansion that will begin by March 7.
Some senators questioned why it would take months to evaluate the pilot study.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said evaluation of the pilot implementation can happen in a month.
"In my opinion, after one month, we will know exactly the experiences and how we can adjust in opening classes," he said.
"If this will be the time table, we will have two years of school closures," Gatchalian said.
Philippine schools closed in March 2020 after parts of the country were placed under community quarantine due to the threat of COVID-19.
"Kung sa February pa magpe-prepare [ng expansion], may delay na naman ulit. Sa akin, hindi ba mas maganda na when we go back after the Christmas break, mas maraming eskuwelahan na iyong puwedeng buksan?" Sen. Nancy Binay said.
(If we start preparing for the expansion phase in February, there will be a delay again. For me, wouldn't it be better that when we go back after the Christmas break, more schools will be allowed to reopen?)
59 SCHOOLS PASS ASSESSMENT
In the same hearing, Malaluan reported that 59 of the 638 nominated public schools have so far passed the Department of Health's (DOH) granular risk assessment for the pilot implementation.
A list from the DepEd showed that the schools cleared for the pilot study are from provinces such as Masbate, Aklan, Antique, Cebu, Zambaonga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Sarangani and Cotabato.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said her department would conduct a weekly assessment until the DepEd and DOH complete the 120 schools that were allowed to participate in the pilot test.
Sen. Pia Cayetano, however, questioned why no urban areas are included in the pilot study, fearing it would produce "skewed results."
Vergeire explained that participating schools come from areas under Alert Level 1 and 2 but the DOH was coordinating with experts to see how urban areas can be included in the pilot implementation.
MORE PRIVATE SCHOOLS
Binay also asked the education department to reconsider raising the number of private schools that would hold limited in-person classes.
The DepEd is currently identifying the 20 private schools that will join the pilot test.
Gatchalian argued that private schools have more facilities to "respond to [the] risk" of COVID-19.
"Most of the private schools... have bigger classrooms, open spaces and to be honest about it, they're more qualified in terms of adjusting," he said.
Limited classroom instruction will only complement distance learning modalities and is the first in the DepEd's 3-phased plan to reopen Philippine schools.
The DepEd and DOH have released the guidelines for the conduct of limited in-person classes.