March 16 Update: additional closures and district goals

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear staff, students, families and community,

The situation related to COVID-19 has become more serious in our state and county, and I trust you are following announcements and advice from Governor Jay Inslee’s office, which ordered restaurants and bars to temporarily close and expanded limits to social gatherings. I also encourage you to monitor the Whatcom County Health Department website for the most up-to-date information related to COVID-19 in Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Based on these orders, we have closed our district to many operations this week, outside of some essential services, and have asked most staff to stay home, practice social distancing and care for your health and loved ones. I know this feels like an overly used phrase right now, but these are unprecedented times.

The goals I shared Saturday are still in place; we closed our office and asked staff to not report to work today with the first goal in mind.

Primary goals

  1. Protect life, promote safety and minimize the spread of the virus.
  2. Provide food to the young people in our community.
  3. Work with community partners in supporting child care options for our first responders, medical employees and families in greatest need.
  4. Develop innovative ways to support ongoing student learning.

We are making great progress on our second goal: provide food to the young people in our community. We are continuing to develop plans for “drive through” meals to start Monday, March 23, and we will share details soon. While we greatly appreciate offers to volunteer and help with meals, it’s important we follow all health and safety protocols with our trained food services staff.

Supporting child care options during a pandemic is complicated to say the least. We, as a community, are working hard to collectively to meet families’ needs. Here you can find a list of community partners who are continuing to provide child care in some form. If you are a licensed child care facility and you’d like to be added to our list, please send us an email. We also have local partners who are prioritizing child care needs to support our first responders, but they are working directly with fire, medical and those in other essential fields.

Lastly, we are receiving many questions from parents and teachers related to this question: What are the teaching and learning expectations for staff and students during this time of emergency closure?

We’re working with directors, teachers on special assignment (TOSAs), educational technology coaches, principals and others to put together teaching and learning guidance for our teachers, paraeducators, students and families.  We want to express deep appreciation for the ongoing partnership with our labor leaders and employees in helping to figure out next steps, and we will start to implement our plans over the next days and weeks. However, for the next few days, we are prioritizing safety, access to food and access to childcare. The focus on teaching and learning will follow as a next priority after we get structures in place to address these basic needs. We expect to communicate more about learning in the coming days; for now, please continue to encourage kids to read, play outside and practice social distancing. (And if your kids get a little more screen time than usual…well, you’re probably not alone!)

Lastly, the generosity of this community never ceases to amaze me! Thank you to all of those who have reached out and offered funds or services to our students, families, staff and district. At this point, we have not formally identified opportunities for volunteers, but if or when we need you, we will reach out. In the meantime, feel free to connect with our amazing partner, the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation.

With gratitude,

Greg Baker