"The department has already submitted a letter to the Office of the President presenting other options, including a more aggressive alternative of ending the School Year 2024-2025 in March 2025," DepEd Assistant Secretary Francis Bringas said during a Senate Committee on Basic Education hearing.

Bringas, however, said these options would mean a shorter school year and squeezed breaks, which might affect the rest period for learners and teachers.

In terms of number of days, he said, the DepEd may need to resort to ADMs or Saturday classes.

"Our option could be to count some days as alternative delivery modes, which are not necessarily in-person classes... We have to look for some days to cover ADM," Bringas said.

Under this option, the actual in-person classes would only be 165 days, less than the minimum required 180 days for each school year.

Besides this, it would also compromise more days for proportional vacation pay (PVP) for public school teachers.

"We all know that teachers are entitled to proportional vacation pay, that is two months after each school year. And they are paid, the PVP is computed based on the number of school days in a given year," Bringas said.

The DepEd earlier maintained its stance on a "gradual reversion" to the old school calendar, considering the effects of sudden shifts to learners and teachers.

In February, it ordered a series of adjustments, including the scheduled end of School Year (SY) 2023-2024 on May 31, intending to implement the school break from June 1 to July 26; with the succeeding SY set from July 29, 2024 to May 16, 2025, according to Department Order 3, series of 2024.

Heat index arbitrariness

Bringas, meanwhile, raised current challenges of schools in terms of arbitrariness when identifying the radius or scope of heat index forecast from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

Local government units and school heads currently implement ADMs based on heat index forecasts and other natural calamities.

"We are hoping that PAGASA could help us with this... In comparison, typhoons, we can see typhoons, but for heat, we can only feel it. It becomes more subjective for something that we just feel than something that we see," he said.

Bringas also requested a comprehensive guide to ensure appropriate actions for teachers and learners.

"While they have heat index also, it may be possible that the heat index is not within the danger zone. But with the existing conditions within the classroom that may contribute to the amount of heat that you feel at that particular time, like congestion, limited ventilation, and so on, it may also contribute," he said.

"We hope we could be more guided scientifically like what we do in typhoons."

Bringas, meanwhile, lauded school heads and LGUs for implementing flexible learning setups alongside balancing learning recovery.

"We acknowledge in the department that there's still no substitute for in-person classes, but we cannot do otherwise at this point," he said.

To date, he added, some schools avoid peak hot temperatures from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. by moving in-person shifts to 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Based on the DepEd's trend of suspension of face-to-face classes, the peak record happened on April 19, with 9,421 schools implementing ADM affecting about seven million learners nationwide.

From April 8 to 26, the most used ADM was blended learning equivalent to 59.4 percent, followed by modular at 38 percent, and online at 2.6 percent.