Senate measure to give power to DepEd Secretary on deferring opening of classes during emergencies and calamities



The Department of Education (DepEd) secretary will have the power to defer opening of classes and shorten the start of school year during emergencies and calamities once measures filed by Sen. Francis “Tol” Tolentino are enacted into law.

In his Senate Bill No. 1457, Tolentino wants to amend Republic Act No. 7977 to give the DepEd Secretary the authority to the opening of classes and the start of school year to a date later than August if calamities and emergencies occur before the start of the school year.

Tolentino also submitted Senate Bill No. 1458, empowering the DepEd Secretary to shorten the school year and mass promote the students during calamities and emergencies, such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Currently, Tolentino explained that Republic Act No. 7977 provides that the start of the school year should not be later than the last day of August.

“There really still no certainty as to when the country will be able to effectively control this contagion and this will certainly put students at risk of contracting the disease as they attend and congregate in schools in the usual opening of classes in June of 2020,” he added.

Department of Secretary Leonor Briones had earlier said that the opening of school year 2020-2021 has been set on August 24, going against the earlier recommendation of IATF to have the school year start on late September which was also supported by President Rodrigo Duterte.

In this regard, Tolentino underscored the need to amend Republic Act No. 7977 to avoid any legal dilemma and afford the government and the schools more time to effectively implement safety measures to secure the health of the students attending their classes.

Also, Tolentino wants Republic Act No. 7977 amended to authorize the DepEd Secretary to cut short the school year from the prescribed 220 days and give passing marks to affected students.

“The law on the matter, Republic Act No. 7977, does not allow for such humane measure as it provides that the school year shall be not more than 220 days and ending or shortening the school year may be considered a violation. Hence, there is a need to amend the law,” he said.

But Senate President Vicente Sotto II wants the opening of classes to be on September, noting that it is a “safe date.”

He also cited the continued threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19) to the country.

Noting that the June opening is just a month away, Sotto said there is a need to delay this year’s school opening  to ensure the welfare of students nationwide.

Republic Act 7977, or the Act to lengthen the school calendar from 200 days to not more than 220 days, mandates the opening of school classes every year on the first Monday of June and not later than the last day of August.

In an online news conference, Sotto said his proposed measure on the school calendar bill will be a priority in the Senate.

“What is important on that bill is the power of the President to adjust the school opening. August, we don’t need the bill, but what if there’s a second wave,” he said.

Sotto, in his proposed Senate Bill No. 1438, said it is important to give the Department of Education (DepEd) more time and opportunity to prepare and adopt measures for the new normal of the education system./Stacy Ang

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