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Senator pushes opening of classes after August 

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Senator Sherwin Gatchalian filed a bill that would authorize president to set a different date for the start of the school year nationwide or in selected areas during a state of emergency.

Senate Bill No. 1541, which is in substitution of Senate Bills 1438, 1452, and 1457 filed respectively by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, and Senators Francis Tolentino and Joel Villanueva, seeks to amend Section 3 of Republic Act No. 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 passed into law, the measure will empower 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.

“The subject matter of this amendatory legislation is simple, but also quite important in my view as we seek to provide the National Government more flexibility in managing the school calendar amid the unique challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic,” Gatchalian said in his sponsorship speech.

Under RA 7977, the Secretary of Education shall 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 move the class opening to August 24 amid the persisting threat of Covid-19, and despite the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases' (IATF-MEID) earlier recommendations to move the opening of classes to September.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture noted that “under the usual circumstances,” this 11 to the 12-week window provides enough flexibility for the government to adjust the class schedule due to any issue that might arise.

“Unfortunately, Covid-19 has put the entire country under the most unusual of circumstances. The proposed opening of the 2020-2021 school year on August 24 has been opposed by those who fear that the physical opening of our schools may cause a spike in Covid-19 cases among school-aged children,” Gatchalian noted.

“It is in contemplation of this and similar situations that this bill proposes it be the President himself, upon the recommendation of the Secretary of Education, who shall make this critical decision,” he said.

Gatchalian 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 if public health authorities would recommend the postponement of the school year to contain the spread of Covid-19.

“This way, the government will have free rein to make a science-based decision on the school opening issue. 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,” he said.

While SB 1541 authorizes the President to set the date of the start of the school year during a state of emergency, the proposed measure retains the DepEd Secretary’s authority to set the end the school year while taking into consideration the Christmas and summer vacations, including the peculiar circumstances surrounding each region.

The DepEd Secretary also retains the authority to hold Saturday classes for elementary and secondary levels for both public and private schools.

Through this measure, Gatchalian said the government would give the government enough time to ensure the safety of the country’s more than 27 million learners, their parents, and approximately 900,000 teachers and personnel.

“Mahalaga ang pagpasok sa eskwelahan ng mga bata pero higit na mahalaga ang kanilang kaligtasan at kalusugan. Kaya bigyan natin ng pagpapasya ang Pangulo ng Pilipinas at ang Kalihim ng Edukasyon upang baguhin ang petsa ng pasukan sa panahon ng pandemya na walang kasiguruhan sa kaligtasan at kalusugan ng kabataang Pilipino (Children need to go to school but their safety and health is more important. Let’s give the President and the Deped secretary the authority to change the date of opening of classes during pandemics where there is no assurance for the safety and health of the Filipino youth),” he said.

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