September 27, 2021 – In line with the pilot implementation of limited face-to-face classes in select low-risk areas in the country, the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Health (DOH) have identified mechanisms to ensure safety of participating learners, teaching and non-teaching staff, and their families.

The pilot implementation will be done among a maximum of 120 schools across the country, prioritizing Key Stage 1 learners (Kinder to Grade 3),  after passing the School Readiness Assessment by DepEd and their local governments.

Recognizing the need to safely reopen schools and that schools cannot operate in silos, DepEd and DOH worked hand-in-hand in crafting the operational guideline on the pilot implementation of face-to-face learning.

“Our utmost priority is the health and safety of our learners and teachers while ensuring that learning happens and learning gaps are addressed. We have been proactive in planning for safe return to schools. The operational guideline for the pilot run of face-to-face classes is a product of our collaboration with DOH, in consultation with various stakeholders, including child health experts. This will only be applicable for the schools that passed the strict vetting process by DepEd and DOH, and have the support of their respective local government units,” Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones said.

Sec. Briones added that the pilot will feature a combined implementation of face-to-face classes and distance learning.

The guideline sets standards on the readiness of schools for re-opening. It implements the Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Reintegrate framework highlighting the importance of availability of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, proper ventilation in classrooms, ensuring that classroom layouts enable physical distancing between persons, prioritization of students who will benefit most from limited face-to-face learning modality, management of foot traffic, and conduct of simulation activities prior to implementation of the pilot, among others.

“We want to ensure that we provide safe learning spaces for children during this pandemic. The pilot run will be a shared responsibility among DOH, DepEd and local government units to ensure that mechanisms are in place from prevention of COVID-19 infection to reintegration of recovered patients. It is also a shared responsibility among school management, teachers, and families for ensuring that all minimum public health standards are observed and possible COVID-19 cases are detected early through regular symptoms screening and reporting,” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said.

DepEd also drafted a contingency plan with recommended actions for different scenarios. The scenarios range from where there is a suspected case presenting symptoms, to a scenario where there is resurgence of COVID-19 cases in multiple barangays. This sets the policy on when schools should impose a lockdown.

“With the help of DOH and other local partners, we will soon orient those who will be involved in the pilot run and coordinate with them regarding the prioritization of their vaccination in case our participating teachers and other non-teaching personnel haven’t completed their vaccines yet,” Sec. Briones said.

Another agreement between the departments is that teachers joining the pilot implementation should be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We are committed to providing additional protection for our teachers through vaccination. While vaccination is not mandatory, classroom learning will be limited to vaccinated teaching personnel. So as not to disenfranchise unvaccinated teachers, they may teach using distance or online modules. This also presents options for parents who are still hesitant to send their children to school,” Sec. Duque said.