With only two COVID-19 cases recorded so far and none in the past 28 days, Cabuyoan Elementary School in Panganiban town is likely to be the only school in Catanduanes to participate in the upcoming pilot limited face-to-face classes of the Department of Education.
School principal Josephine Vallespin confirmed the good news in an interview with the Tribune last Friday, Sept. 24, 2021 but clarified that the School Safety Assessment Tool (SSAT) is still being processed but iot is already in its final stage after the school submitted its papers last December 2020.
Cabuyoan ES has 153 students from kindergarten to Grade 6, which are being handled by 11 teachers, a school head and one principal.
Prior to the school’s selection, coordination meetings have been held by the school management and DepEd division officials with the municipal government headed by Mayor Cesar Robles, the Barangay Council led by Chairman Elmer Casimsiman, parents, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) representatives and the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO).
Principal Vallespin said that the pilot testing of the limited face-to-face classes is being supported by parents and the officers of the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA).
According to DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones, about 100 public and 20 private schools in minimal-risk COVID-19 areas are set to participate in the pilot limited face-to-face classes.
Schools that will partake in the pilot should also pass the safety and readiness assessment of the Department and adhere to the strict joint guidelines set by DepEd and the Department of Health (DOH) and other protocols of the Inter-Agency Task Force for Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) and other organizations specializing in children’s health.
The operational guidelines on the pilot implementation of face-to-face learning modality provide health and safety standards in terms of personal protective equipment, sanitation, detection and referral, ventilation, contact tracing, and quarantine, coordination, and contingency measures.
From the guidelines, Sec. Briones explained that class size will be reduced to 12 learners for Kindergarten, 16 learners for Grades 1 to 3, and 20 learners for technical-vocational students, while class sessions will only run for a maximum of three hours for Kindergarten to Grade 3 and four hours for Senior High School.
The pilot face-to-face classes will also be conducted every other week, with participating schools ensuring that class schedules are arranged equitably so that all qualified learners have the opportunity to physical classes.
The endeavor will be subject to close monitoring for two months and undergo risk assessment as other countries do, Sec, Briones disclosed.
Under a memorandum issued Sept. 15, 2021, DepEd directed all its divisions to conduct school safety assessment aimed at reevaluating the readiness of schools in the limited reopening of physical classes.
Qualified schools must be in a barangay where no confirmed COVID-19 case or cases have been revorded in the past 28 days and must be accessible through public transportation or through walking.
The school must have the support of the local government unit concerned and the written consent of parents or guardians.
In addition to resources and support from community stakeholders to meet the standards of the health and safety protocols, the school must have conducted simulation activities among school personnel regarding protocols and routines to replicate and discuss possible scenarios during the actual conduct of face-to-face classes.
It must have implemented an Alternative Work Arrangement necessary to deliver quality basic education in a safe learning environment to learners.
On classroom layout and structure, the school must have established mechanisms to ensure zero to minimal risk of COVID-19 transmission to the learners, including seats spaced 1-2 meters apart, availability of working electric fans, open windows and doors, and availability of sterilization box where outputs submitted by the learners will be placed for disinfection.
Easy-to-understand signs must also be set up inside the school to indicate the separate entrance and exit points, queue areas, and walking direction guides.
At the gate, temperature thermal scanners, hand sanitizers or alcohol dispensers, and surgical masks for symptomatic individuals must be made available, along with health declaration sheets and contact tracing tools.
It must likewise ensure the regular sanitation and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces and school facilities, including furniture and equipment, and the proper disposal of infectious wastes, such as used tissues and masks, in noncontact receptacles.
A communication plan will have to be in place, including contact details of parents and guardians, and child-friendly IEC materials on hygiene practices and respiratory etiquette, and a proactive COVID-19 local hotline.
The memorandum also requires schools to follow a decision model and contingency plan for reclosing and reopening the school in case of COVID-19 resurgence in the community.
For example, a school lockdown could be implemented by the local IATF in case of a suspected, probable or confirmed COVID-19 case, change in the quarantine risk classification of the community, and violatons of learners or personnel with regards to minimum public health standards.
In the event of a lockdown, all learners shall revert to distance learning, with the school to be disinfected following detection of a suspect, probable or confirmed case.
The school can only be reopened based on the following considerations: completed contact tracing; completed disinfection activities; 14 days without confirmed cases in the school; school is in a barangay with low to no community transmission; and, area where the school is located is classified as minimal-risk.
The possible participation of Cabuyoan Elementary School in the pilot limited face-to-face classes comes just as Department of Health provincial officer Dr. Robert John Aquino was quoted as saying that face-to-face classes are still not possible in Catanduanes as it is still considered as moderate risk as far as COVID-19 is concerned.
He likewise pointed to the continued rise in new cases in the province, which remains under Alert Level 3, and the possibility that Delta Variant cases are already in the island.