A LAWMAKER has filed a bill in the House of Representatives that would require the government to immediately rollout a program to enable the gradual reopening of face-to-face classes in public and private schools at all levels nationwide.  

Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Jane I. Elago filed Wednesday a yet to be numbered bill that would be known as the proposed Safe Schools Reopening Bill.  

The measure calls for the national government, through the task force managing the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) response, to support educational institutions in crafting prevention and mitigation strategies for safe and phased reopening of physical classes.  

“A community-based, people-oriented, grassroots-level response to the pandemic shall be in place. The students shall also be included and involved in all levels of education-related pandemic response and recovery steps,” according to the bill.  

Local government units and education stakeholders should coordinate to conduct thorough and scientific risk assessments. This would include ramping up free, efficient, and safe COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and vaccination for schools in high-risk areas.  

Schools should also be provided with adequate water supply, handwashing facilities, ventilated classrooms, and free face masks and alcohol, and a contingency plan for probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases, among others.  

School facilities such as laboratories, computers, and libraries are encouraged to be opened as part of the initial phase of reopening of schools.  

As the reopening of schools will be done in phases, the measure would also require continued assistance for distance learning such as free gadgets and internet connection along with an implementation of academic ease measures such as flexibility on deadline of requirements.  

The Department of Education (DepEd) is set to hold a pilot implementation of face-to-face classes starting Nov. 15 with only 30 public schools participating. Another 70 are undergoing validation for readiness based on DepEd guidelines.   

In September this year, the Philippines and Venezuela were the last two countries that have yet to resume physical classes.  

The bill also proposes the allocation of P184.49 billion to DepEd, Commission on Higher Education, and Philippine Health Insurance Corp. to fund programs such as regular COVID-19 testing, hiring health professionals and procuring adequate supplies in schools, and hazard pay for teachers, among others.  

These funds would be appropriated from savings and unprogrammed funds under the 2021 General Appropriations Act and the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, excess revenues from government-owned corporations, unused funds for debt servicing, and unutilized special purpose funds.  

“We really need (these funds) to fast-track and thorough preparation of facilities and personnel in order to ensure the good health and welfare of students, teachers, and staff during the gradual opening of schools,” Ms. Elago said. 

The measure would also prohibit imposing additional rates on tuition fees under a state of calamity or public health emergency, and allow state forces to enter school premises. — Russell Louis C. Ku