The Senate has approved on third and final reading Senate Bill No. 1541 authorizing President Rodrigo Duterte to postpone the opening of classes beyond August.
Should the measure become a law before the opening of classes, the President and the Department of Education (DepEd) would have more flexibility if COVID-19 cases continue to surge and threaten the safety of learners, teachers, and non-teaching personnel.
The bill, which amends Republic Act 7797, authorizes the President, upon the recommendation of the secretary of Education,to move the start of the school year during a state of emergency or calamity. The bill covers all basic education institutions, including international schools.
RA 7797 originally mandates the start of the school year from the first Monday of June to the last day of August.
"The immediate effect of this legislation would be to empower the President 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 COVID-19," said Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate committee on basic education, arts and culture, and co-author of the bill.
Senate Bill 1541 is a substitute bill consolidating proposals by Senators Joel Villanueva, Francis Tolentino, and Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
In the House, a party-list legislator filed a similar bill.
Rep. Manuel Cabochan of Magdalo party-list group, in House Bill 6797, seeks to amend Republic Act 7797 which provides that the school year should start on the first Monday of June but not later than the last day of August.
“There is a growing concern for the safety of the children if classes will resume on August. The rising number of COVID-19 cases and limited testing capacity pose high health risk for the students and the faculty. Immediate resumption of classes may also increase transmission of the virus. It is for these reasons that I am for the deferment of the start of the school year,” Cabochan, an independent lawmaker, said.
The bill also provides for qualifying examinations that would determine if the student could accelerate to the next year level if the state of emergency or state of calamity is prolonged.
Meanwhile, a group of private school teachers and professors called on the government to help them amid a 50 percent drop in the enrollment of students.
Jonathan Geronimo, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Private Schools secretary general, said they have launched a signature campaign for a unity statement seeking amelioration from the government.
He said the unity manifesto calling for "bayanihan" in the midst of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic would be signed by hundreds of private school teachers, education support personnel and administrators.
Their demands included a call for immediate mass testing, job and wage security for school employees, and zero-interest loans for small private schools, he added.
Geronimo said teachers and employees from the basic education and tertiary levels of De La Salle University, University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo de Manila University, Far Eastern University and University of the East have already signed the unity statement.