QUARANTINE DIARIES: 14 ways towards COVID-safe school environment for children

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 20 May) – Both the parents of school-aged children and the Department of Education (DepEd) are apprehensive over the opening of the schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The apprehension is centered on the threat to the health and safety of the school children.

Even with this threat, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) overseeing the country’s response to COVID-19 decided in a meeting on May 8 to proceed with the opening of public schools on August 24 with the school year ending on April 30, 2021. It adopted DepEd’s Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BELCP).

The BELCP provides for flexibility in the implementation of the school curriculum, including teaching methodology that will not necessarily mean traditional face-to-face learning in classroom and that “the physical opening of schools will depend on the risk severity grading or classification of a locality, pursuant to guidelines of the Department of Health, IATF or the Office of the President.”

The plan also stipulated that “even in areas where schools are allowed to open, physical distancing will still be required, which will necessitate schools to combine face-to-face learning with distance learning.”

However, the BELCP did not give details on how health and safety of the children can be protected.

It is in this light that the following 14 measures for opening COVID-Safe School Environment for Children (CSEC) is being suggested for DepEd’s consideration:

  1. Require each school to draft health safety plan that will include the measures proposed herein.
  2. Adopt flip learning methodology that is not dependent on internet connectivity and which maximizes learn-from-home modality.
  3. Limit classroom population to 20 pupils;
  4. Limit face-to-face learning to four hours per day and four days per week.
  5. Establish hand washing stands at a ratio of 1 faucet for every 60 students;
  6. Provide daily vitamin C supplement for every pupil.
  7. Increase personnel dedicated to sanitation and hygiene of classrooms, school grounds and canteens. (Canteens should pass health protocol to be set by Rural Health Unit / City Health Office).
  8. Deploy one nurse per 1,000 school population.
  9. Conduct regular health check-up for teachers (once a week). Those with symptoms should take a leave until cleared by the school doctor.
  10. Review and adopt curriculum that fits within the limitation of shortened face-to-face learning. Limit content to fundamentals.
  11. Keep kindergarten and day care programs closed.
  12. No outsiders will be allowed in the school ground.
  13. Use thermal scans. Children and school personnel with fever should not be allowed entry to school ground.
  14. Be brave and free.

At the beginning of the school year, children will be taught basic hygiene to combat COVID-19 infection like hand washing and wearing of face masks. In areas where the incidence of pandemic is high and is classified by the Department of Health (DOH) as “high risk,” like Metro Manila and Metro Cebu, children and school personnel should be required to wear face masks until such time that the area classification has been improved per DOH assessment.

These measures can be validated with the Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) in order to allay the fears of both teachers and parents, and mobilize community support to implement them. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jules L. Benitez is a humanitarian development practitioner in Mindanao, working in the field of disaster preparedness, mitigation and response. He is also a MindaNews contributor.)

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