Bishops warn government about the dangers of school opening without mass testing

Bishops of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) warned the government against the danger of its decision to restart classes in August 2020. Once the upcoming school year formally opens and students and teachers start trooping to the schools, the bishops said they worry it would look like “leading lambs to the slaughter.”

The South Central Luzon Bishops Conference (SCLBC) aired their concern in a statement on May 30, a few days after President Rodrigo Duterte declared the possible opening of classes. 

On June 1, the Department of Education (DepEd) rolled out its preparations for school opening in August, kicking off the month-long enrollment in public schools.

“We share the concern of students, parents and personnel everywhere, including those in schools owned by IFI, that President Rodrigo Duterte’s government, the Department of Education (DepEd) specifically, has prematurely decided to commence the school year in August. This can backfire sans a comprehensive and inclusive plan to end this public health crisis,” read the bishops’ statement. 

SCLBC Chairperson Bishop Rowel Arevalo said that while they do not totally oppose the decision, the potent danger of the Covid-19 disease spreading when schools reopen is very unsettling for the bishops. 

“The government must consider the safety of students as a primary consideration in its decision to restart classes,” Arevalo said. “We do not not want an outbreak in schools, that would be extremely dangerous not only for students, but also to their teachers and other school personnel, and even to their families,” the bishop added.

The bishops cautioned that no one could really be certain about the areas where the COVID-19 threats are without mass testing.

“We understand the DepEd’s resolve to resume classes. However, even in supposedly “COVID-free” areas, there may be undetected cases due to the absence of testing. We worry that those cases may cause greater outbreaks not only in schools but also in the places where students meet, even in their own homes and their neighborhoods,” the prelates said. 

“Until the government finally conduct mass testing, every parent would feel unsafe. They would be confident to send their kids to schools when they fear for their safety,” Arevalo said. 

In order to avoid greater disaster, the prelates reiterated their call for mass testing before the upcoming school year formally opens.

“The best solution is to test more people, trace contacts more speedily and treat COVID-19 effectively. It would be wise to see a pronounced and sustained decline in new cases before the government considers putting a date to school reopening,” said the bishops.

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