New dates: bringing back high school students for in-person instruction

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear students, staff, families and community,

I am excited to announce dates to bring high school students and staff back into our schools for in-person instruction. And full disclosure: this is a lot of information. Our high school principals will be reaching out to share more details and answer questions.

On Feb. 5, we shared start dates for grades 3-8. Now, in line with continued guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), our governor (see Gov. Inslee’s press conference from Feb. 16), our state superintendent, the state Department of Health and our local health department, we will begin bringing back grades 9-12 between March 8 and March 19. Students will be brought back for in-person instruction gradually over the first two weeks. Please keep reading for details on the hybrid and roll out schedules.

Here are some of the reasons our district is ready to take this step.

  • We have developed safety protocols based on the advice of aforementioned institutions and by working closely with our local health department.
  • Here is an overview of our safety protocols, which include key mitigation strategies:  mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand washing and staying home when sick.
  • Our district has a comprehensive contact tracing process if/when needed, which is also a key component in risk mitigation and is led by our COVID safety team in partnership with the Whatcom County Health Department.

Over the last few months, we have had several programs and classes back in our high schools, with staff and students effectively following our safety protocols to mitigate risks. We also have been watching and learning from other districts across Whatcom County and the state who have brought back all their students. As we have seen throughout this pandemic, conditions may change, and we may adjust plans based on the advice of local and state health officials. The Whatcom County Health Department dashboard shows case rates steadily decreasing since January. As of Feb. 16, our 14-day average is ~332 cases per 100,000 residents from Jan. 23 to Feb. 5; our preliminary 14-day average is ~224 per 100,000 from Feb. 2 to Feb. 15; and the preliminary 7-day average is ~80 per 100,000 residents. All excellent trends of decreasing transmission across our county.

Hybrid Schedule

Grades 9-12 will follow a hybrid schedule, which means a combination of remote and in-person teaching and learning with most students coming to school two days per week.  We will continue to have options for families who wish to stay remote.

Starting March 8, the high school class schedule will change for both in-person and remote students (see high school section, hybrid schedule). Classes will continue to begin at 8:30 a.m. and will now end at 12:30 p.m.

We will offer a gradual start for in-person instruction for students starting March 8; we are also hosting an in-person freshman orientation on March 3. See our “return to high school” schedules to find your start date for Bellingham/Sehome and Squalicum, as well as other details below.

Sehome and Bellingham High School March calendar Squalicum High School March calendar

 

Click calendar to enlarge and view as a PDF with page two as a list of dates (link opens in a new tab).

The week of March 22, following the gradual rollout, most students at Bellingham, Sehome and Squalicum high schools will begin attending two days per week in the hybrid schedule. The Wednesday schedule will remain the same. See note below about Options.

  • Bellingham and Sehome high school students with last names beginning with A-K will be in person on Mondays and Tuesdays; students with last names beginning with L-Z will be in person Thursdays and Fridays.
  • Squalicum High School students with last names beginning with A-L will be in person on Mondays and Tuesdays; students with last names beginning with M-Z will be in person on Thursdays and Fridays.
  • Options High School will start its regular hybrid schedule March 8. Please watch for schedule details from Options.

All high schools will start at 8:30 a.m. and dismiss at 12:30 p.m. with asynchronous learning in the afternoon. Transportation will be provided for eligible riders. As they leave for the day, students may take a free bag lunch.

Will you return to school or stay remote?

We want to ask you about your plans for returning to school or staying in remote learning. To help us with planning for your high school student(s), please complete this brief online form, which also gives you the opportunity to request a phone call from us. Please fill out this form by 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26 to help us plan for students returning and be sure to look for more information from your principal and teachers.

Each time we bring back more students and staff, we have seen heightened excitement as well as concern. We recognize that each person’s experience during the pandemic is different, and there are many factors that can influence readiness and ability to be back in school. Our district COVID safety team works closely with our principals and staff to ensure our protocols are followed and effective, and we look forward to continuing to support all of our high school students and families while seeing more students in person soon.

Thank you for being a part of our collective commitment to Bellingham’s children, which includes taking steps to mitigate risks and supporting each other through these unprecedented times.

Greg Baker