President Rodrigo Duterte has approved limited face-to-face classes in 120 Philippine schools, officials announced on Monday.

The 120 schools are located in areas with low Covid-19 risk, chosen through safety assessment by the Department of Education (DepEd).

Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the classes would be subject to the approval of local government units and parents of schoolchildren.

“Ang sinabi namin, ang facilities ng [DepEd] kailangan handa para sa requirements of the IATF and the Department of Health (DOH) para magkaroon tayo ng social distancing, sapat na tubig, gamot, close location to a health unit,” Briones said in a Palace briefing.

“Very, very strict ang health standards natin,” she added.

Under the guidelines approved by the president, kindergarten classes will have 12 students while classes from grades 1 to 3 will have 16 students maximum.

Classes from kindergarten to third grade will be held for a maximum of three hours.

Technical vocational classes can have as many as 20 attending students.

“Itong pilot na ito, shared responsibility ng (DepEd), (DOH), with the approval of IATF, the LGUs themselves and the parents. Tapos, dalawang buwan ito na bantayan nang husto talaga,” Briones said.

The Philippines, prior to Duterte’s approval, was the only country in the world yet to resume in-person classes.

Briones said school employees aged above 65 would be allowed to participate in the pilot run as long as they did not have co-morbidities.

“Protocol para talagang magiging safe ang pilot na ito, kung safe ang pilot, if it is effective then we will gradually increase pero ang ano natin dito ang mahalaga, bantayan natin kung ano ang risk assessment. Kapag may pagbabago sa risk assessment then talagang ititigil natin,” she added.

Public school classes in the Philippines opened on Sept. 13, marking the second year the Philippines implemented distance learning. John Ezekiel J. Hirro