Schools can call off classes due to heat – DepEd
MANILA, Philippines — As several parts of the country try to cope with the summer heat, the Department of Education (DepEd) said on Saturday that school authorities could call off in-person classes to safeguard the health of their students and staff.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said the government should start considering reverting to the old school calendar as public schools are not fully equipped to deal with high temperatures during the dry season.
DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said that principals and school heads had been reminded that they have the “authority and responsibility to suspend in-person classes and switch to alternative delivery modes (ADMs) if it is really hot and already affecting the health of our learners and personnel.”
Poa was asked by the Inquirer about the DepEd’s contingency measures or plans to address the concerns of parents and teachers regarding the hot weather over the past several days.
“We also don’t want our learners’ health to be affected especially with the very hot temperature we are experiencing, which is why we are again reminding our school heads that they can immediately switch to ADMs,” he pointed out.
One local official, Mayor Dennis Hain of Cabuyao City in Laguna province, took action in response to the hot weather that affected students of Gulod National High School Extension in his city.
Hain suspended classes on March 24, a day after 83 students were hospitalized for heat exhaustion during fire and earthquake drills.
Some of the students had difficulty in breathing and complained that the afternoon heat was “too much for them to bear,” the City Schools Division of Cabuyao said in a statement.
The incident prompted Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate Committee on Basic Education, to call for the return of the old school calendar and called on the national government to bring back the April-May “summer vacation.”
ACT secretary-general Raymond Basilio said that the hot weather, which may last until next month, should push the DepEd to revert to the old school calendar where classes start in June.
Basilio said that ACT wrote to the DepEd last month requesting the agency to return to the previous school calendar to avoid holding classes during the hot and dry season.
“In the Philippines’ context, it is not really conducive to have classes during this period since we lack the facilities to handle this, especially in public schools,” he told the Inquirer.
Basilio said the decision by the DepEd central office of tasking the school heads to suspend classes was only a “temporary solution” to the problem.
“The DepEd should really take this seriously by consulting with teachers and other school personnel on the field and come up with mechanisms that would bring us back to our old school calendar,” he stressed.
In a department order on May 11, 2020, the DepEd decided to move the opening of the school year 2020-2021 from June to August 2020, because of the pandemic.
This new August-April school calendar was continued by Vice President Sara Duterte, the education secretary, in the school year 2022-2023.
Duterte’s order was based on Republic Act No. 11480, the law which authorizes the education secretary to set the date for the start of the school year, especially during a state of calamity.
On Friday, April 22, the highest temperature recorded in Metro Manila was 36.2 degrees Celsius, up from 35 C the previous day. It was 32°C on April 22 last year.
The weather bureau has also been reporting on the “heat index,” or the so called “init factor,” the apparent temperature felt by the human body from the combined air temperature and humidity, which is different from what is recorded by a thermometer.
Heat indices between 41°C and 54°C are considered “dangerous” and could likely cause heat cramps and heat exhaustion, and a heat stroke is probable with continued activity. Above 54°C is “extremely dangerous,” when heat stroke is imminent, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa).
Weather specialist Daniel James Villamil said that the recent hot days “is all because of the dry season we are experiencing.”
On March 21, Pagasa announced the beginning of the dry season or the Philippine “summer.”
Villamil said that the current hot temperatures may continue in the coming days and last until next month, interrupted only by local thunderstorms that could result in relatively cooler weather.
According to the science journal, Science Advances, the human body can tolerate heat up to 35 C, beyond which the human body can no longer cool itself by evaporating sweat to maintain a stable body core temperature.
The Department of Health said heat stroke—which is a medical emergency—occurs especially during exercise, prolonged exposure to direct sunlight and when the body is dehydrated.
If untreated, it can damage the brain, heart and kidneys, resulting in serious complications or even death.
Symptoms include dizziness, fainting, headache, intense thirst and dehydration and a very high temperature and rapid heartbeat, among others.
In April 2016, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) issued an advisory on safety and health measures to prevent and control heat stress in the workplace and to mitigate the effects of “extreme heat at work.”
Industries engaged in construction, fishing, or in outdoor work and exposed to extreme heat for a prolonged period were specifically targeted by the advisory.
It directed employers and establishments to provide a free supply of adequate drinking water near workstations. Workers were also advised to drink water more frequently.
The DOH has also advised that to keep cool during the hottest days, people should avoid spending so much time outdoors and drink water rather than tea, coffee, soda, and alcoholic beverages.
When sun exposure is unavoidable during these days, the DOH said people must wear wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved clothing. Strenuous activities and exercise must be scheduled either at the beginning or at the end of the day when the temperature is lower.
—WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH
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