Update on bringing back second grade and notification process for confirmed cases

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear staff, students, families and community,

We have received a lot of feedback and questions since I shared this message Thursday, Nov. 19, which included the health department’s recent guidance for schools.

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I know many people would appreciate an update, specifically about second grade. We anticipate bringing second grade back for in-person instruction Thursday, Jan. 14, but please know that these plans are tentative. We are keeping this start date flexible to allow some time after our return from winter break to assess conditions, connect with our health department, refine our planning and engage with families on their plans. We do not have tentative dates to bring back grades 3-12 and those start dates would follow second grade.

It would have been wonderful to see more of our students back in our schools sooner. But I’m also cognizant of the growing number of complexities and as one person termed, a “growing cumulative pressure.” We know of increasing cases and that the health department’s low-barrier, drive-thru testing program has reached its maximum capacity like many other locations in our state. We also are aware of the changes to testing locations, revisions in health care recommendations and the complications our families face making decisions about the upcoming holidays. This cumulative effect has certainly created a heightened sense of anxiety and worry.

After many conversations with local and state health officials, I feel confident about continuing the in-person instruction programs in our schools currently because the number of students and staff in buildings is relatively small, we have good safety protocols in place and we are serving students whose needs are great. There is a confidence in what we know and have done.

I know we are all looking forward to returning to school, and I ask that everyone take our governor’s warnings and rules seriously so that we can get the transmission rates down and get more students in our classrooms. I want to thank our staff for working so hard to prepare and think through the many procedures and nuances of bringing back another grade level.

Transparency vs. privacy

I received a few questions about why we do not send out a districtwide message to all staff and all families when we have a confirmed case. Local health officials warn against sharing information too widely in an effort to respect the privacy of our students, staff and families. We also strive to be transparent with our community, and we continue to consider ways to share information and data without inadvertently revealing someone’s identity. You can also see the health department’s dashboard of cases in Whatcom County.

We work closely with the health department when there is a confirmed case associated with our schools. Here are the steps we follow for confirmed cases of COVID-19.

  1. When we learn of a case of COVID-19, we first confirm with the health department that the confirmed case is associated with our schools.
  2. Our schools each have COVID site safety teams who help initiate contact tracing. If there are close contacts of a confirmed case, we work with the health department to notify staff and parents/guardians that there has been contact with a confirmed case.
  3. Next steps are determined by the health department, which may include recommendations for COVID testing, isolation and/or quarantine. Recommended actions are communication to impacted staff and families according to the guidance of the health department.
  4. In some cases, a group of students will shift to remote learning for a period of time designated by the health department.

And a quick reminder on terminology…

  • Exposure or contact is usually defined as being within six feet or more and spending 15 minutes or longer with someone who has tested positive for COVID.
  • Quarantine is when someone is asked to stay home due to ​exposure to someone who is infected, because they could become contagious.
  • ​Isolation is when some is asked to stay home because of illness or possible illness, ​and they are contagious.
  • One confirmed case is not an outbreak. An outbreak is defined as two or more cases with transmission occurring between them.

As we have heard from our nurses and other health officials, we can most effectively mitigate risks by maintaining good protocols including: assessing symptoms daily; staying home when symptomatic; wearing masks; washing hands; maintaining physical distance; keeping students in small groups; and utilizing contact tracing when needed.

Thank you all for your support, and I wish you each a wonderful, restful and safe Thanksgiving holiday.

Greg Baker