Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday said it is safe for students to go back to class when classes resume on August 24, 2020 as long as minimum health standards are observed.

This is in total contradiction to what President Rodrigo Duterte said during a televised late Monday night address that he will not allow classes to resume if a vaccine against COVID-19 is not yet available.

“Sa ngayon po tingin namin ay ligtas naman po kung bubuksan natin ang klase by August 24. Kinakailangan po rito siguraduhin lamang na ang lahat ng ating minimum standard for health ay nakatalaga,” Duque said during the  Senate Health Committee hearing Tuesday.

“Tingin ko magiging ligtas naman po ang pagbubukas ng atin pong mga paaralan,” he stressed.

He added that physical/social distancing, frequent and proper hand washing and disinfection of classrooms are some of the measures needed to be observed to ensure the basic health standard in schools.

“Marami po tayong mga measures na katulad ng fever scanning or thermal scanning, pwedeng ma-adopt po ito ng bawat paaralan para titignan kung sino sa mga bata ang mga may sakit,” Duque said.

In a late Monday night address, Duterte said that he will not allow classes to resume for as long there are no vaccines available against COVID-19.  He even suggested that students should just spend their time playing while classes remain suspended.

“I will not allow the opening of classes if dikit-dikit mga bata… Wala nang aral. Laro na lang… Bakuna muna. Pag nand’yan na bakuna, okay na,” he said.

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However, the Palace quickly clarified that what Duterte pertained to in his statement last night was the conduct of face-to-face classes.

“Kung hindi mai-lift ang community quarantines, hindi naman ibig sabihin na hindi na mag-aaral ang kabataan. Mayroong blended learning para sa edukasyon ng kabataan,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque said in a televised briefing Tuesday morning.

Roque said in-person classes might open if the country would be under the “new normal” by Aug. 24.

“Kung hindi po, gagamit po tayo ng blended learning,” he added.

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The Department of Education (DepEd) earlier said that classes in public schools for school year 2020-2021 will start on August 24, in compliance to the provision of  Republic Act No. 7797 which states that a school year should start from the first Monday of June “but not later than the last year of August.”

DepEd  said they are exploring learning alternatives, such as information communication technology platforms, television, and radio, to deliver the lessons to students while the country is still grappling with the coronavirus crisis.  (Rommel F. Lopez)