South Central Luzon Bishops Conference’s Statement on the Reopening of Classes in August 2020
As our country moves forward in a world changed forever by COVID-19, citizens struggle to find our way through a “new normal” with precaution and vigilance. It is in this spirit that we, the South Central Luzon Bishops Conference (SCLBC) of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), categorically state that the government’s decision to restart the school year could be a recipe for disaster, with our children right in the center.
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. There has been a long-standing and scientifically sound clamor for mass testing, with which testing should cover more symptomatic cases as well as people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 but do not show symptoms.
The World Health Organization consistently advised countries to conduct this as an essential part of their response, a call which the government has repeatedly ignored. Today, with more than 17,000 confirmed cases and over 900 deaths, we still have no decrease in sight for new cases. In fact, on May 28, the same day the President expressed support for the opening of classes, the country misreported 539 new confirmed infections, an error reflecting the mishandling of the response.
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. We also doubt all schools will have the resources to implement the prescriptions of physical distancing, enhanced personal and institutional hygienic practices, school sanitizing protocols and thermal checks, among others.
Supposing blended learning — a combination of e-learning and traditional face-to-face teaching — would ensure continuity for schooling in places with COVID-19 transmissions, teachers will need to split themselves between teaching students and learning the ropes of Web-based and other “new normal” learning styles. Above all, we feel for students and parents who cannot afford the hardware and prerequisites like Internet connectivity for Web-based classes.
SCLBC believes that 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. Meanwhile, it would be unreasonable and morally wrong to expect citizens to adjust to blended learning while a global recession takes shape.
Kids, parents, teachers and other personnel trooping to the schools in August would look like “leading lambs to the slaughter.” If we are indeed running low on resources because of the health, humanitarian and public order responses the government is implementing, we simply cannot afford a full-blown COVID-19 outbreak originating in schoolhouses.
As we pray with the global community for breakthroughs in treatment and vaccination, we call on the government to be pragmatic in its decision to reopen schools. Assumptions and speculations should not be a basis for major decisions like beginning a school year. We ask for proactive approaches to protect the public from the COVID-19 pandemic.
RT. REV. ROWEL AREVALO
Chairperson, South Central Luzon Bishops Conference
Bishop of Laguna
Bishop-in-Charge of Masbate
MOST REV. GODOFREDO DAVID
Bishop of Rizal and Pampanga
RT. REV. VICENTE SALVADOR BALLESTEROS
Bishop of Greater Manila
RT. REV. JOSELITO CRUZ
Bishop of Bataan and Bulacan
RT. REV. EMILIANO DOMINGO
Bishop of Cavite
RT. REV. PEDRO OJASCASTRO
Bishop of Marinduque, Quezon, Batangas and Camarines
RT. REV. RONELIO FABRIQUIER
Bishop of Romblon and Mindoro
RT. REV. JOVY FODULLA
Bishop of Palawan
May 30, 2020
(Photo by Ernie Peñaredondo, The Philippine STAR)