Planning for the 2020-21 school year; police in schools

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear students, staff, families and community members,

We hear two questions from our community frequently right now, and we are receiving feedback on these issues. First, we are hearing about the role of police in schools. This topic has been on my mind and many others since George Floyd’s murder and the many protests across the country. Please see an update related to our current thinking on police in schools.

Another frequently asked question, not just in Bellingham but across the state and world, is what will the school year look like this fall? Our first day of school is scheduled for Sept. 2. We are working on a number of different models, but our plan is the same as it was a month ago. Our schools are preparing to reopen in the fall, and we are still developing both at-home and in-person instruction models. For those who are ready and able to head back into our schools, there will be safety measures and new requirements for our students, staff and families. Based on current guidance, these measures will include face coverings, distancing, sanitizing, health screenings, and smaller class sizes.

Thank you to those who gave us feedback in June related to reopening. You can see summaries of both staff and student/family results on this webpage. We will be collecting more feedback in the coming weeks to inquire about whether you’re ready to return to school even a few days per week or if you would prefer to opt for our full-time at-home online model.

Committees, work teams and process

As we plan toward Sept. 2, we have a myriad of work teams, each working on different aspects of reopening, and we are also collaborating and coordinating with our larger community. The Whatcom County Reopening Advisory Team includes representation from seven school districts in Whatcom County, the Whatcom County Health Department and representatives from community partners, health care, and more. The Bellingham Public Schools Reopening Advisory Committee is providing feedback to both instructional and operational aspects of our reopening plans. The work of the advisory team can be found on the district website. Additionally, we have work teams for operations and instruction exploring everything from schedules, online learning platforms, transportation, food services, to personal protective equipment (PPE) and more. The instructional teams are organized primarily by content areas and levels, and they are officially beginning this week; our operations teams have been up and running since early July.

Questions being discussed on these work teams about returning to school include:

  • What will learning look like?
  • What will the bell times be?
  • How will schedules work for families with children in schools at different levels (i.e. elementary and high schools)
  • What about child care and after school care?
  • How do we maintain social distance in classrooms?
  • What will busing look like?
  • What kind of face coverings and personal protective equipment will be needed? What will be provided?
  • What will meals and recess look like?
  • How often will students wash their hands?
  • What if a teacher or student is positive for COVID-19, how will we react?

As we work on developing answers to the questions listed above and dozens of others, we are currently thinking we will prioritize in-person offerings to our youngest learners and students preK-12 who receive special services, such as special education. For students in grades 3-12, in-person offerings may follow a hybrid model with in-person classroom learning some days and online at-home learning other days. We plan to offer a full-time at-home learning option for those who are unable or disinclined to attend in-person classes.

Guidance and concerns are ever-changing

Our safeguards are based on guidance from a number of sources, including Governor Jay Inslee, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Academy of Pediatrics issued its guidance for school re-entry then a few days later, clarified its recommendation.

This two-minute video with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta may also offer some helpful context.

I want to acknowledge the anxiety many of us are experiencing. Some are anxious to have more details. While I know we want to more know more, I encourage you to be as patient as possible. I believe in our process, and it is important that we work closely with students, staff labor associations and families to come up with a plan that builds and improves upon what we did during the spring closure. Staff are highly engaged in this work and it is an ever-changing landscape with lots of moving parts and new guidance. We have seen school districts come out with plans only to change them a week or two later because guidance and best practices have changed. Of course, that could still happen to us, regardless of when we release plans. Please know that we are mindful that staff and families need to make plans and that you are hungry for information. We will share plans as soon as they are ready. We want to allow enough time for staff to focus and receive training, and for students and families to decide which option will work best for them.

Others of you may be feeling worried about the virus and keeping yourself or others in your home who may be at higher risk safe. As we move forward, we are working diligently to address these concerns, guided by the paramount responsibility of maintaining the safety, health and well-being of our staff, students and families.

Thank you in advance for your help and flexibility as we navigate these unusual circumstances, and please keep an eye on your email and our website for updates.

Greg Baker