DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa (Photo from DepEd FB page)

The Department of Education (DepEd) said Wednesday mandatory face-to-face classes will push through as scheduled starting November 2, despite threats of the new coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) omicron XBB and XBC subvariants.

In a radio interview, DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said despite the detection of the XBB and XBC omicron subvariants in the country, Department Order (DO) 44 will remain effective.

Sa ngayon, wala po tayong pagbabago doon sa amendatory DO na na-issue po natin last Monday (As of now, there’s no changes in our amendatory DO which we issued last Monday),” he said.

Under DO 44, all public schools are required to hold five-day in-person classes except for those affected by disasters or calamities, or granted exemption by the regional offices.

Private schools, meanwhile, shall indefinitely enjoy their flexible learning options, as the DepEd recognizes their investment in in-person learning setup and challenges in transitioning to pure face-to-face classes.

Poa said in-person learning addresses learning gaps and the mental health needs of learners, particularly their need to interact physically with their teachers and classmates.

He assured parents that guidelines against any Covid-19-related threat are in place to ensure the safety of their children.

Ang Covid naman po, talagang ang position natin is hindi natin siya binabalewala. That’s why we have the health guidelines na nilabas po natin. Binase kasi natin ito sa mga studies na talagang mas makakabuti, advantageous ang in-person classes pagdating po sa pag-aaral ng ating mga learners (It is our position not to ignore the threats of Covid. That’s why we have released our health guidelines. We based the mandatory in-person classes on the studies, saying in-person classes are more beneficial, advantageous for the education of our learners),” he said.

Maglalabas tayo ng guidelines sa regional directors kung ano ‘yung parameters ng pagbibigay nila ng exemption para hindi naman po arbitrary ‘yung pagbibigay ng exemption (We will issue the guidelines to our regional directors for the parameters on the exemption, so that the granting of exemption shall not be arbitrary),” Poa added.

The DepEd reiterated that in-person classes still provide advantages for the well-being of learners.

Bagamat binigyan namin ang private schools ng option or ipagpatuloy ‘yung options ayon dun sa DO 34, parati nating, sinabi rin natin na baka pwedeng tingnan ninyo, be mindful dun sa mga studies natin na talagang iba ang advantages of in-person classes (Although we gave options to our private schools or allowed them to continue options indicated in the DO 34, we always, we said they should look into it, be mindful of the studies saying the advantages of in-person classes is different),” he said.

On Tuesday, the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines (COCOPEA) thanked the DepEd for its move to maintain options for in-person, blended, and distance learning for all private schools nationwide.

The DepEd said it is now studying to institutionalize the blended learning setup in the country, with its target to address classroom shortage and other perennial problems typically incurred during disasters.

Meanwhile, a health reform advocate said the rule on the optional wearing of face masks should be revisited considering the threat of Omicron subvariants.

Kasi ‘yung kids kasi huli silang nabakunahan, mababa ang ating update and nagfe-face-to-face classes sila. But ang concern is the Executive Order No. 3, kung optional ‘yan, that’s a problem na baka we need to suspend that, at least for the next two weeks and observe kasi kung hindi natin ‘yan irere-evaluate that will be a problem for all of us, airborne kasi siya (Kids are the last to be vaccinated, and it has a low update [on vaccination], and they are doing face-to-face classes. The concern is the Executive Order No. 3, if that’s optional [wearing of face mask], maybe we need to suspend that, at least for the next two weeks, and observe because if we don’t reevaluate, that will be a problem for all of us because it’s airborne),” Dr. Tony Leachon said.

Earlier, Poa said learners are still required to wear face masks inside the classrooms or any enclosed spaces, but may take them off in open spaces.

DO 34 requires health guidelines like the proper wearing of face masks, handwashing, sanitation, ventilation, and contact tracing to reduce risks among learners, teachers, and non-teaching personnel. (PNA)