PHILIPPINES— A group of teachers, parents and students called on the Department of Education (DepEd) and Department of Health (DOH) on Monday to release better ventilation guidelines for the safe implementation of the five-day in-person classes in public schools starting November 2.

Aral Pilipinas specifically called on the departments to issue evidence-based guidelines to improve the airflow in schools, considering that the coronavirus is an airborne disease. The group said that measures should be adopted considering the class size, room size, and class duration, among others.

“Ito ay simpleng solusyon at napakalaki ng benepisyo o maitutulong para una, magtuloy-tuloy ang pagpasok ng mga bata sa eskwelahan dahil maiiwasan ‘yung transmission with improved ventilation. Tulad ng isinusulong ng Aral Pilipinas Coalition na magkaron ng tool katulad ng Safe Schools Calculator para gabayan ang mga guro, mas magiging ligtas ang mga bata,” said Abbey Pangilinan of Aral Pilipinas said in a press conference.

(This is a simple solution and has a huge benefit in helping children continue going to schools due to improved ventilation that could avoid transmission. The Aral Pilipinas Coalition advocates having a tool like the Safe Schools Calculator to guide teachers in making the children safer.)

Based on DepEd Order series of 2022, all schools and offices shall ensure adequate ventilation in enclosed and shared spaces by opening windows and doors, using exhaust fans, and placing fans near windows.

As to COVID-19 transmission in educational institutions, former adviser to the National Task Force against COVID-19 Dr. Tony Leachon also said that DepEd should be transparent about the real data to mitigate the infections, particularly among children.

“Wala namang may gusto na hindi pumasok eh [nobody wants to prevent students from going back to schools], but how can we protect ourselves if we are not empowered, educated, and engaged about our data?” he asked.

“Part of this is really transparency in terms of the release of the data by the Department of Education. Ang tagal nang hinihintay, wala pa tayong nakikita dito [we’ve been waiting for this for a long time, but we haven’t seen anything yet]. This should be transparent and be discussed.”

DepEd has deferred to local government units when it comes to the release of the COVID-19 tally in schools to avoid “conflicting figures.”

Both the DepEd and the DOH, however, repeatedly said that COVID-19 infections in schools are expected since the pandemic is still prevalent in the country. Even Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte had said that this was a natural consequence of the reopening of different sectors, like education.

GMA News Online sought comment from DepEd spokesperson Atty. Michael Poa regarding this, but he has yet to respond as of this posting.

Leachon also appealed to the government to reconsider the easing of the face mask mandate, considering the recent detection of the Omicron XBB subvariant and XBC variant.

“Knowing na airborne ito, sana minentain muna natin ‘yung face mask muna. Pwedeng ma-reconsider ng Pangulo at matataas na members ng ating Kabinete kasi hindi pa naman tayo nakakasigurado on the course ng XBB at saka the XBC,” he said.

(Knowing that this is airborne, I hope we maintain the face mask first. The President and senior members of our Cabinet should reconsider because we are not yet sure about the course of the XBB and XBC.)

“Kung hindi natin mafa-face mask lahat because of that option at ang booster natin ay hindi kumpleto, sana ‘yung ventilation guidelines [sa eskwelahan] ay malinaw,” he added.

(If we can’t have everyone wear face masks because of that option and our boosters are not complete, I hope the ventilation guidelines in schools are clear.)

It was on September 12 when Malacañang announced that President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. signed the executive order allowing optional masking in open spaces and non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation.

With this, the DepEd affirmed that learners had the option to either wear or not wear a facemask in outdoor settings based on the existing national policy. — DVM, GMA News