All roads lead to schools today

54k schools nationwide welcome back 27.6 million students after 2 years

For the first time in over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic started, some 27.6 million elementary and high school students will troop back to over 54,000 schools nationwide today as in-person classes finally resume.

READY FOR CLASS. Learners with special needs teacher Lina Laguinday writes a welcome message on the whiteboard at the Aurora Quirino Elementary School in San Andres, Malate, Manila on Sunday. Danny Pata

Department of Education spokesman Michael Poa said 24,175 public and private schools nationwide or 46 percent will implement five-day face-to-face classes, while 29,721 schools or about 51.8 percent will implement blended learning modality.

The remaining 1.29 percent or about 1,004 schools will conduct distance learning, Poa said.

The number of returning learners is about a million short of DepEd’s target of 28.6 million.

With the expected influx of people, the Philippine National Police has activated its Balik-Eskwela operational guidelines.

In Metro Manila alone, the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) is deploying more than 5,000 police officers to ensure peace and order during today’s opening of classes in 1,212 schools in the region.

The deployment includes 1,033 personnel in police assistance desks, 384 motorcycle patrollers, 38 Explosives and Ordnance Division/K9 personnel, 74 bus marshals, 90 marshals in transportation hubs and terminals, 318 personnel in “Libreng Sakay” areas, and 3,296 street patrollers.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board also open more than 100 “modified” routes to address the need for more public transportation for the public going to face-to-face classes.

Meanwhile, DepEd on Sunday said 92 percent of teaching and non-teaching staff are fully vaccinated with primary doses against COVID-19 but only 19 percent of students are similarly protected.

Poa said DepEd adheres to a “no discrimination” policy for both vaccinated and unvaccinated personnel and students as face-to-face classes resume.

Last school year, only fully-vaccinated teaching and non-teaching personnel were allowed to participate in limited in-person classes.

Poa said the DepEd is in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH) to implement counseling and mobile vaccinations in schools.

“What we will be doing with the DOH is counseling sessions before we push through with mobile vaccination. We must have a number first before we roll out mobile vaccination,” he said.

Poa said those who refuse vaccination will be educated through counseling sessions.

“Once they agree, whether learner, parent, teaching or non-teaching staff, we will set up mobile vaccination sites,” he added.

Poa reiterated his call for teaching, non-teaching personnel, and students to continue to adhere to minimum public health standards.

Among DepEd’s safety guidelines is a double shift policy to prevent classroom congestion. Students will not be allowed to eat together during breaks.

If the space won’t allow students to eat separately, they should do so while facing one direction.

Blended learning will be implemented before full face-to-face classes start on Nov. 2 in private and public schools.

A total of P3.7 billion funds for maintenance and other operating expenses were released to DepEd field offices to support in-person classes.

Poa said it will be up to regional directors to decide how they will use the budget, which may include the purchase of face masks and other items to ensure a safe reopening of in-person classes.

On the eve of the start of classes, Senator Joel Villanueva said the “all systems go” pronouncement of the DepEd or the opening of classes must be matched with the readiness on the ground of the facilities, teachers, and students.

He said the era of missing classrooms, sharing tables and chairs, and holding classes under the shade of trees must come to an end.

“We expect our students to have their classes in comfortable classrooms and with complete learning materials as promised by DepEd,” he said.

READY FOR CLASS. A school worker mops the floor near a ‘back to school’ sign at the Rafael Palma Elementary School also in Manila as the school year 2022-2023 begins with in-person classes in public schools on Monday. Norman Cruz

Villanueva said the observance of minimum health standards must be ensured as the threat of COVID-19 continues to linger.

The opening of a new school year also brings to focus the hardships of teachers, he said.

“A salary upgrade is ideal which we will continue to push. But a realistic measure that may be immediately addressed would be an increase in the allowance of public-school teachers, including those in state universities and colleges and state-run technical-vocational institutions.”

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