More than 18 months of government order to close schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, 100 public schools in the elementary and high school level started conducting pilot face-to-face classes for a limited number of students on November 15.

Out of 48,000 public schools nationwide, the Department of Education (DepEd) has approved limited in-person classes in 34 schools in Luzon, 21 in Visayas and 45 in Mindanao, based on their respective granular risk assessments by the Department of Health (DOH).

Unlike the usual scenes during the typical first day of classes, the reopening of schools did not feature crowded classrooms.

Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones explained last September 21 that under this setup, classrooms should only occupy up to 12 pupils in Kindergarten, 16 in Grades 1 to 3, and 20 in the technical-vocational strand in Senior High School.

Class hours have also been reduced, with Kindergarten to Grade 3 pupils only allowed for a three-hour school day and Senior High School students for up to four hours in a day.

Throughout the day, scenes of excitement among teachers and pupils are seen, while still being reminded of the current health crisis through strict health protocols, such as readjusted classrooms, chairs and seats that are placed far apart and are surrounded by plastic barriers, and wearing of masks.

Some schools have tasked wearing IDs with QR codes for contact tracing, implementing alongside other health and safety precautions such as mandatory handwashing, disinfection and thermal scanning, such as the practice of school administrators in Longos Elementary School in Alaminos, Pangasinan.

Meanwhile, 20 private schools are scheduled to have their limited in-person learning on November 22.

Altogether, the 120 participating schools are expected to end their pilot face-to-face classes on January 31, 2022.

In a statement, DepEd called for continued observance to existing health guidelines, expressing optimism in the further reopening of the education sector after nearly two years of closures amid the pandemic.

“In this line, we appeal to the public to always follow the required health protocols and standards. With everyone’s help in improving our country’s COVID-19 situation, our vision to safely reopen more schools nationwide is not a far reality,” the statement read.

The Philippines is the last country in the world to allow reopening schools for in-person learning since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More schools allowed for limited face-to-face classes

Ahead of Monday’s scheduled resumption of physical classes, President Rodrigo Duterte has approved more schools that will join the pilot run of in-person classes, DepEd announced on November 12, citing “continuous improvement of the COVID-19 situation.”

Citing information from the DOH, the Education Department said that out of 638 schools, 484 have been given a minimal or low-risk remark in their granular risk assessment. They also said that some schools in Metro Manila are appealing to take part in the pilot run.

“The expansion of the number of pilot schools will allow a greater degree of experience among all our regions that will serve us well for the expanded phase of face-to-face classes,” DepEd said.

Meanwhile, following their approval on conducting limited in-person classes in locations categorized under Alert Level 2, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) said that colleges and universities in places under Alert Level 2 can apply for authorization starting December 2021, while those under Alert Level 3 may apply come January next year.

CHED Chairperson Prospero de Vera further explained during a briefing with the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education that class capacity may vary depending on the current Alert Level of a respective area.

For instance, those under Alert Level 3 are only allowed to conduct classes at a 30% indoor capacity and 50% outdoor capacity. Areas under Alert Level 2 will have an indoor capacity of up to 50% for fully-vaccinated individuals and those below 18 years of age, and an outdoor capacity of up to 70%. Meanwhile, schools can have a full indoor and outdoor capacity for fully vaccinated individuals if their respective area falls under Alert Level 1.

Prior to this announcement, CHED announced that colleges and universities who want to conduct limited face-to-face classes must ensure that students and school personnel are fully vaccinated, must seek approval from the local government unit concerned, must have classrooms retrofitted, and must be willing to utilize their classrooms at a 50% capacity.

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