MANILA – Senator Francis Tolentino is pushing for measures that would give the Secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd) the power to defer the opening of classes and shorten the school year during emergencies and calamities.
The authority to defer the opening of classes is provided under Senate Bill No. 1457, while the authority to shorten the school year is provided under SB 1458, amending for the purpose Republic Act No. 7977 or the “Act to lengthen the school calendar from two hundred (200) days to not more than two hundred twenty (220) class days.”
In filing SB 1457, Tolentino noted that the Inter-Agency Task Force against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) has recommended that the opening of classes for the school year 2020-2021 should be moved to late September of 2020 to lessen the risk of students contracting the disease as they attend and congregate in schools in the usual opening of classes in June of 2020.
The proposal was supported by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones, however, announced that the opening of the school year 2020-2021 has been set on August 24, in compliance with RA 7977 which states that the start of the school year should not be later than the last day of August.
“We, therefore, need to amend the law to avoid any legal dilemma and afford the government and the schools more time to effectively implement safety measures to secure the health of the students attending their classes,” Tolentino said.
With the uncertainty as to when the country will be really able to effectively control Covid-19, he said deferring the start of classes at a later date would also “afford the government and the schools more time to devise possible online learning programs and other non-face-to-face learning systems to enable the students to learn outside the school premises.”
SB 1457 further provides that the DepEd Secretary may also defer the start of the school year only “for particular regions or schools” if the entire country is not affected by the emergency or calamity necessitating the deferment.
Once enacted into law, the proposed measure mandates the DepEd secretary to determine the end of the regular school year, taking into consideration the Christmas and summer vacations, and the peculiar circumstances of each region.
The DepEd Secretary may also authorize the holding of Saturday classes for elementary and secondary levels for public and private schools.
On the other hand, SB 1458 authorizes the DepEd secretary to cut short the school year from the prescribed 220 days, and mass promotes the students in times of emergencies and calamities.
Tolentino said that with no clear end to the pandemic in sight, considering the absence of online or non-face-to-face learning systems, the government should not place the youth in harm’s way by resuming classes.
“The most humane thing for schools to do Is to end the school year and provide students with passing marks or mass promotion,” he said.
“The law on the matter, RA 7977, does not allow for such humane measure as it provides that the school year shall be no more than 220 days and ending or shortening the school year may be considered a violation. Hence, there is a need to amend the law,” Tolentino said. (ia/PNA)