By Jose Cielito Reganit
MANILA – The Senate on Monday unanimously approved on third and final reading a bill that gives the President the authority to adjust the opening of classes during a state of calamity.
Senate Bill 1541 seeks to amend Section 3 of Republic Act 7797, or “An Act to Lengthen the School Calendar from Two Hundred (200) Days to Not More Than Two Hundred Twenty (220) Class Days.”
Once enacted into law, the measure authorizes the President, upon recommendation of the Secretary of Education, to set a different date for the start of the school year for the entire Philippines, or any part thereof, which is under a state of emergency, calamity, or similar occurrence.
SB 1541 will cover all basic education institutions, including foreign or international schools.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, co-author and sponsor of SB 1541, thanked his colleagues for recognizing the urgency of the proposed measure and giving their approval before the sine die adjournment.
The 18th Congress will have its last day of session of the first regular session on Wednesday, and will return for the second regular session on July 27.
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture pointed out that the immediate passage of SB 1541 before August 24 would be to empower President Rodrigo Duterte to move the start of the school year 2020-2021 to September or even later, in the event that public health authorities would recommend the postponement of the school year in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
“Natutuwa po ako at nakapasa na sa Senado ang panukalang batas na ito. Mahalaga ang pagpasok sa eskuwelahan ng mga bata, pero higit na mahalaga ang kanilang kaligtasan at kalusugan. Kaya bigyan po natin ng pagpapasya ang Pangulo ng Pilipinas at ang Kalihim ng Edukasyon upang baguhin ang petsa ng pasukan sa panahon ng pandemya habang walang kasiguraduhan sa kaligtasan at kalusugan ng kabataang Pilipino (I am happy that this measure has already been passed in the Senate. It is important for children to go to school, but their safety and well-being is more important. Let’s give the President and the DepEd secretary the authority to change the date of opening of classes during pandemics, when there is no assurance for the safety and well-being of the Filipino youth),” Gatchalian said.
RA 7797 originally mandates the Secretary of Education to set the start of the basic education school year between the first Monday of June and the last day of August.
This law served as the basis for DepEd’s decision to set the class opening to August 24 amid the persisting threat of Covid-19.
Last April, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases recommended to move the opening of classes to September
Gatchalian earlier said that amending RA 7797 would give government free rein to make a science-based decision on the school opening issue.
“Through this measure, government would also be given enough time to ensure the safety of the country’s more than 27 million learners, their parents, and approximately 900,000 teachers and personnel,” he said.
“In later years, this law would give the President and the Department of Education sufficient flexibility in adjusting the start of the school year when other emergencies or calamities would so require,” Gatchalian said. (PNA)