School closures are extended through end of the year, remote learning continues

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear students, staff, families and community,

As you may have heard, Gov. Jay Inslee has announced that all schools in the state of Washington will remain closed this school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although we were trying to remain optimistic we would return to in-person school this spring, like districts across our state and country, Bellingham Public Schools has been preparing for an extended closure of our schools and facilities.

I want to encourage you to allow yourself to grieve in this moment; many of us are feeling this grief because of what we’re losing, from in-person teaching and learning to significant milestones, including big games, dances and other events. Many of us are experiencing grief around small but important everyday happenings like lunch and recess connecting with friends. It is critical to remember why we’re doing this — we’re making sacrifices because we’re saving lives. These are unprecedented times, and we are responding appropriately, even though it is challenging.

You’ll remember that in the beginning of our schools’ closure, we established four goals, based on guidance from the state, health authorities and our strategic plan, The Bellingham Promise.

Primary goals

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

We made significant strides over these last three weeks, including the following: freeing up district staff to contribute to the county’s emergency response; providing thousands of meals and food to students in our community; offering child care options for our first responders; and developing remote learning guidelines and resources.

Now that we have more clarity about the rest of this school year, we will continue to focus on our primary goals and increase our efforts. It’s important to note that staff, families and students will see more emphasis on remote learning and a shift from review to new lessons and expected demonstration of learning. We continue to be guided by OSPI with regard to high school students earning credits and grades and meeting graduation requirements. High school families, please expect more information on these topics soon.

Today was the first day of our new food services model to serve 10 meals in one box to students and families in need, and at many locations, we ran out. Our principals and staff at each site took down names of people who came and did not receive a box, and we’re working on solutions. Please know that we will be preparing more boxes for next week, Monday, April 13. The Bellingham Food Bank has boxes of food available for pick up from 1 to 4 p.m. tomorrow at Shuksan Middle School. You can see other details about their drive up service on their website.

Our food services team is working very hard to meet the needs of our community, and we appreciate your patience as we figure out the best way to do that. You can see details about our new multi-day meal boxes here. If you or your family are facing challenges, please see our resources page and ask for help if you need it. And a big thanks to those of you who have contributed to Bellingham Public Schools Foundation to support our endeavor to provide food to our youth. It is clear that your help is needed and appreciated!

I recently filmed via Zoom a “What’s up Doc?” remote edition to highlight the innovation and flexibility of our staff who are working hard to pull off this incredible effort. Please watch my conversation with transportation director Rae Anne Thon and food services culinary program supervisor Mataio Gillis. And thanks to Sehome students for the cute new introduction!

 

And since we all may have a little time on our hands, I’ll leave you with one more video to watch.

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal is producing weekly videos and in this one, he answers questions submitted from students and parents and addressing issues such as SAT/ACT testing, graduation, seniors, grading, IEP services, continuous learning, and prospects of school closure for the rest of the year (as well as the rush on toilet paper). He put this one up late Friday night so it doesn’t include today’s announcement.

I wish I came bearing better news, but please know that even though we are apart we are not by ourselves! As The Promise says, “together we achieve more than alone.”

Stay healthy and be well.

Greg Baker