New guidance from health department and update on returning more students in person

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear staff, students, families and community,

I wanted to update you on our efforts to bring more students back into our schools as well as an update from the Whatcom County Health Department that was released today, Nov. 19. Please keep reading to learn about the plans we’re making, the feedback we are receiving and the health guidance we are following.

Update on plans to bring back more students

  • We are actively working to finalize plans for second grade, and we are also planning to expand our in-school offerings, especially within our internet cafés.
  • We will share dates as soon as we can.
  • We do not plan to bring back students in full grades 3-12 before the beginning of January 2021.

Currently, we have students in preschool, kindergarten, first grade, elementary and middle Life Skills and BRIDGES back in schools for in-person instruction. It’s been fabulous to have students and teachers together “in real life!” as a first grader said on their first day back – the smiles are evident even with the masks on. You can see photos from our schools here.

child reading on carpet with mask

We also have limited students in our middle and high schools who are following along with remote learning and come into our schools for various needs. We are also looking forward to seeing high school students who receive services in Life Skills and BRIDGES back in our schools on Nov. 23.

Health dept guidance and feedback

I continue to receive thoughtful emails from members of our community and the spirit of many of them falls into one of two camps: 1) “hurry up and bring MORE students back,” or 2) “have you seen the latest virus data? Stop bringing students back!”

Both opinions resonate with me, and we will continue to rely on the guidance of health officials about in-person instruction vs. remote. Big picture statistics in the national, state and local news are grim, and many of us are experiencing grief about “losing” holidays. However, our local health officials, in their latest guidance to school districts, have stated that they do not believe schools are significantly contributing to the spread of the virus.

Here are some key takeaways from the Whatcom County Health Department’s latest guidance released today and from recent conversations with them:

  • School districts should phase in or continue in-person instruction for elementary students. This same guidance applies to students who receive special services or face uniquely challenging circumstances.
  • Elementary school students can be grouped in small numbers and limit their number of staff and student contacts, and they are less efficient in transmitting infection than older children and adults.
  • Local health officials are asking us to pause plans for expanding in-person instruction for whole grades for middle and high school students.
  • Transmission of the virus by older students is similar to adults; secondary class schedules are not conducive to limiting the number of other students and teachers with which they have contact.

This guidance is in alignment with our district’s current in-person offerings and future plans. We are going slow to return kids to our schools, per health experts’ advice, and are focusing on our youngest students and those who need particular services or are in unique circumstances. We will continue to lean on the health department for help, and we are so appreciative of their support.

I want to acknowledge that families, staff and students are experiencing a variety of emotions right now from nervousness to excitement. When cases do occur, which they will and already have, we have excellent protocols to follow, which include working closely with the health department staff, who help guide us in our notifications for contact tracing.

It’s also important to remember we have a number of important protocols to mitigate risks, including mask-wearing, hand-washing and keeping distance. It has been wonderful to see our supportive and loving staff and students consistently following protocols and taking great care of themselves and each other. This continues to be new learning for all of us – thank you to those in our schools for doing all we can to keep each other safe. Please take a moment if you haven’t already to review a number of resources for staff regarding safety protocols regarding COVID-19 on this webpage and resources for families and students.  I also encourage those who are struggling with depression, anxiety, emotional imbalance or other mental health concerns to please reach out and ask for help. Here are some resources that may be supportive.

And a reminder, things keep changing. What I’m sharing today will be influenced by what happens in the days to come, so thank you in advance for being flexible and adapting – we certainly have a lot of experience with ever-changing plans.

With appreciation,

Greg Baker