MANILA - The Senate on Monday unanimously approved on third and final reading a bill that allows that president to move the opening of classes beyond August during emergencies and calamities.
The approved measure amends section 3 of Republic Act 7797, which limits the opening of the school year between June and August of every year.
"The immediate effect of this legislation would be to empower the President to move the start of the School Year 2020-2021 to September or even later in the event that public health authorities would recommend the postponement of the school year in order to contain the spread of COVID-19," Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture chair Sherwin Gatchalian said in a statement.
"Mahalaga ang pagpasok sa eskuwelahan ng mga bata, pero higit na mahalaga ang kanilang kaligtasan at kalusugan kaya bigyan po natin ng pagpapasya ang Pangulo ng Pilipinas at ang Kalihim ng Edukasyon upang baguhin ang petsa ng pasukan sa panahon ng pandemya habang walang kasiguraduhan sa kaligtasan at kalusugan ng kabataang Pilipino," he said.
(Sending children to school is important, but ensuring their health and safety is more vital, so let's give the Philippine President and the Education Secretary the prerogative to change the opening of classes while there is no assurance of health and safety during this pandemic.)
The bill covers all basic education schools in the country, as well as international schools which usually operate under a foreign charter and curriculum.
A similar bill has hurdled the committee level in the House of Representatives and is expected to be tackled in the House plenary this week.
The Department of Education (DepEd) earlier moved the opening of classes to August 24, but several local government officials appealed to further defer the opening of classes while a COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available.
Several schools have established online enrollment schemes to avoid mass gatherings that increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
The DepEd has also instructed schools to shift to a blended learning scheme wherein lessons could be delivered through online, television, radio or printed materials to limit the need for students to physically come to school.
But Gatchalian's committee earlier found that most schools are "not yet ready" to shift to the new learning system as internet connection in some parts of the country remains intermittent.
Not all students also have access to computers and television sets, Gatchalian had said.