Updated Nov. 3, 2020

Reconnect stage plan and in-person school

What kind of schedule and breaks will kindergarten and first grade students have?

Our schedule will be 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Students and staff will follow the current Wednesday remote learning model. When at school, students will engage in regular school activities, which have been modified to keep spacing a priority. Each school will have protocols for bathroom visits and regular handwashing. During outside play, we will focus on keeping appropriate space.

Will transportation be available to and from school?

Transportation will be available for all eligible riders. Children are eligible riders if they reside 1) within the service area for their school and 2) outside the walk route. Eligible riders will be receiving more information soon so they can register to ride and find their bus stop. Families with children who receive specialized transportation will be contacted separately by staff.

We recognize transportation may be a concern especially given the modified start and end times of the in-person school day. If your child isn’t an eligible rider but transportation is a need for your family, please contact transportation at 360-676-6546.

Will meals be available at school?

Every school will be serving breakfast and lunch to every student at no cost. You do not need to have an account to eat one or both of these meals. Students can bring meals from home if they prefer. If you have been picking up our weekly meal boxes, please continue to do so. When you pick up the weekly box, let our food services staff know you have children attending school and eating our meals and you will receive a modified meal box of the fresh items — produce, bread, dairy — and the weekly scratch-made entrée. 

Every school will serve meals differently due to difference in layout and space. Each school will practice the best social distancing and safety protocols for their site.

I do not yet feel comfortable returning my student to in-person school, but they are scheduled to come back. What options do I have?

Your school may have already or will be contacting you soon to talk through your plans. If you are not able or willing to return your child(ren) to in-person school, we have some additional district options, such as Bellingham Virtual Learning or the Bellingham Family Partnership Program. We also may continue with reconnect remote learning as we have started the year, but this may mean your child will have a new teacher and/or class. Learn more by speaking with your school staff.

My student is not yet included in returning to in-person school, but I would like them to as soon as possible because of my work schedule or other family needs. What options does my family have?

We hope to continue welcoming groups of students back as soon as we can while still minimizing risk. If you need help finding child care, you can find local openings for child care at Child Care Aware Northwest online or 1-800-446-1114.

I heard that some students are coming back to schools for special programs. How can I get my student involved in those if they are not yet coming back to school?

We have a number of local organizations and partners offering a variety of child care programs at our schools, some since March and others are just getting started. Most of these offerings are for select students, often those furthest from opportunity, to support engagement in remote learning and include an outdoor education component. We are appreciative for these efforts in service of our students.

We have also begun an “internet café” model for older students. Students have access to a space to use Wi-Fi, have meals and snacks, work on school assignments and attend their online classes.

If you need support for your student, please also let your school administration or counselor know. As we add programs and activities, if your child is eligible to participate, you will be contacted. We will also communicate opportunities through our district and school emails and social media.

Safety protocols for return to in-person school

What factors and metrics are being considered to move through the Reconnect Plan stages?

We use several different metrics and factors, including the most recent guidance from the Whatcom County Health Department, its decision tree, data and the rate of local cases. We also rely on guidance from a number of organizations and entities, including the governor’s office and health officials.

Other important factors include transmission rates, vaccinations, agreements with our labor groups and what other local districts are doing. We started the 2020-21 school year in stage 1, and we’re moving to stages 2-3 in November 2020.

What safety protocols will schools be using? How will students know what to do to minimize risk to themselves and others?
  • We are using regular health reminders and attestations for staff and students.
  • Families will receive regular messages reminding them they need to attest their child is symptom-free and follow our COVID-19 safety agreement for famiies.
  • If a student is at school, this means their family has attested that they are free from these common COVID symptoms:
    Cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever (100.4°F) or chills, muscle pain or body aches, headache, sore throat, congestion, new loss of taste or smell, nausea or vomiting, unusual fatigue, and diarrhea
  • Our nurses and other staff have been refining protocols we will use within schools for cleaning, hand washing, moving through hallways, bathroom visits and other school routines.
  • Because each site is slightly different, schools will be sharing their own routines and protocols with families; however, all sites are in close contact with our COVID coordinator so our practices are aligned and consistent at each school.
  • Each site has at least two safety coordinators who act as resources for their site, channels for information, and a response team (if needed).
  • All staff have had training in all of our safety protocols.
What kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) is provided? Will I need to bring or buy anything for my child?

We follow Washington DOH and OSPI guidance for face coverings. All students and staff are required to wear face coverings in school. Some students may be unable to wear face coverings due to medical or other conditions. Our behavior and health teams work with these students, families, and classrooms on an individual basis to support them in safely accessing their education.

Students will be provided cloth face coverings (masks) to wear at school, and are also allowed to wear their own as long as it fits our requirements. Students will need to launder their masks at home. We will also have disposable masks available in case of forgotten, lost, or soiled masks that need to be changed.

What is our air filtration and ventilation like in our schools?

Prior to September, the district changed all ventilation filters in all our schools.  We have checked ventilation rates in all of our schools to prepare for students and staff returning to our buildings to ensure a minimum of five air changes per hour. We have also added box fans with MERV-13 filters as an additional layer of protection to each classroom with students.

What protocols will be followed to track and communicate information about COVID-19 cases connected to our schools?

The Whatcom County Health Department is the community lead for sharing information and data about COVID-19 in our community. If there is a positive case connected to a school, the health department will notify our COVID coordinator, who will then follow our tracking and communication protocols. We will rely on the health department to guide with whom, how and when we communicate with the public.

As the community lead for communications about COVID-19, the health department keeps data of cases within school district boundaries at their COVID-19 data dashboard page. They have the infrastructure and experience to share information about communicable diseases. In our schools we have a long-standing partnership with the health department for when and how we communicate regarding communicable diseases—whooping cough, chicken pox, and so forth—and we will continue to follow and update these protocols.

How will we respond if a case is linked to a school? Will my child or family need to quarantine?

We have protocols in place for both suspected and confirmed cases within our schools. Each situation is unique and will be handled on a case by case basis. For more information on the guidance we are using, please see this flow chart from the Washington State Department of Health.

If your child begins to feel unwell during the school day, they will be directed to a designated screening room. There a school nurse or trained staff member will check your child’s temperature and assess their symptoms. Families will be notified if their child needs to be picked up from school.

If there was a positive case for a student or staff, then anyone determined to be a close contact would have to quarantine.  The school district and the health department will work together to determine close contacts, and will work together to communicate any action steps students, staff or families would need to take.

We are heading into flu and cold season. What if my child is sick but it is not COVID-19?

If your child has any of these symptoms, please contact your school and keep your child home: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever (100.4° F) or chills, muscle pain or body aches, headache, sore throat, congestion, new loss of taste or smell, nausea or vomiting, unusual fatigue, diarrhea.

To be on the very safe side, students should stay home if anyone in their household has these symptoms. And families should ask themselves these questions:

  • Have you been in close contact with anyone with confirmed COVID-19?
  • Have you had a positive COVID-19 test for active virus in the past 10 days?
  • Within the past 14 days, has a public health or medical professional told you to self-monitor, self-isolate, or self-quarantine because of concerns about COVID-19 infection?

Special Education and other student support services

What about students who receive special services?

Our Reconnect Plan and five stages prioritize in-person instruction for students who receive special services, including ELL, special education and those who are experiencing homelessness as soon as possible.

Life Skills and BRIDGES: students grades K-2 in our Life Skills or BRIDGES programs will return to in-person instruction starting Nov. 2. Life Skills and BRIDGES for grades 3-5 will return Nov. 12. We hope to continue welcoming groups of students back as soon as we can while still minimizing risk.

Child care

What about families who have to work and can’t stay home?

We’re continuing to work on solutions to help with child care, although we may not be able to solve all the unique challenges families will face. We are working with our local child care providers to help ensure that students can engage in learning while there, as well as provide flexibility so parents and students can participate outside of the school day as well. For more information about child care in our community please visit our child care resource page.

Why would you support community partners like the YMCA running childcare, but you have not yet fully opened school?

After-school programs are private businesses and fall under child care guidelines that allow them to limit the number of children they can choose to serve.  As part of licensing, they are also restricted by lower adult-child ratios. They are also able to set their fees in a way that allows for funding based on these numbers.  As a public school system, we are required to serve all students, without these same adult/child ratio restrictions. It’s also important to point out that we are not reimbursed based on the lower adult/child ratios that are required in order to meet the safety guidelines of COVID-19.  We continue to problem-solve and plan with a goal of bringing our students back into our buildings safely.

I am interested in forming a learning pod with other families. What support do you have?

Here is our best guidance at this time for families who are looking to connect with friends or others in the community and, with resources for health and safety: Thrive at home: guidelines for creating remote learning communities.

We recognize this need in our community, and our family engagement and learning pods workgroups are working on ways to connect families with each other and/or with community partners. As our teachers and other staff connect with families during the first weeks of school, please make sure to let your teacher(s) know you are interested in a learning pod, or fill out our learning pod interest form.

Supplies and technology needs 

How do students get textbooks or other supplies from school?

Each school is coordinating systems for supply pickup to get students the materials they need to engage in learning. We continue to be committed to Project Free Education, where families are not asked to pay extra for school supplies.

How can we get help with internet/Wi-Fi or a computer to learn? Can the district help?

Our goal is to ensure that all students PreK-12 have the technology they need for school and access to Wi-Fi from home for remote learning. Thanks to our voter-approved technology levy, all current students in grades K-12 have take-home 1:1 devices. Please use this tech support request form to let us know about any technology needs your family may have.

Online learning program 

Online learning was very challenging last spring for me/my child. How will it look different?

We understand the disappointment many are feeling regarding our Aug. 5 announcement. This weighs heavy on all of us – our leaders, our staff, families, students, community partners and beyond. While we’re making big improvements in our remote learning model, we know in-person learning is better. We can’t wait to get back to the model that works and what we know. The good news is that we have smart, dedicated staff working on improved remote learning plans and schedules now. Here are some of the ways that our Reconnect Plan is already different than last spring’s remote learning:

  • Attendance and participation are required, with similar expectations to in-person school.
  • Most classes will be taught using the Microsoft Teams interface so students and families have fewer systems to navigate.
  • Teachers will lead scheduled live (synchronous) lessons.
  • Classes will be a combination of online live lessons and teacher-directed offline work, not 100% screen time.
  • Students will receive regular feedback on assignments and grades will be assigned.
  • Our schedules will more closely resemble typical school schedules.
  • Teachers will share common learning standards.
  • Teachers will also be able to personalize and differentiate for the variety of learning needs within their classrooms.
Online school does not work for my child. Can they come to school and meet with a teacher or tutor one-on-one?

We will continue to work on safe and creative ways for students to begin coming back into our schools and/or connecting with support. As we move through the stages, more opportunities will be available. Please stay in touch with your child’s teacher(s) and principal about their needs.

What will grading look like?

All students will receive regular feedback on assignments and grades will be assigned.

Our work teams have been working all summer to plan professional development for teachers in best practices for teaching online, providing feedback, and assigning letter grades for courses earning high school credit. This continued work we had already begun through our high school grading practices task force, which has been working since spring 2019. We recognize that in a remote learning environment it’s even more important to have clear systems for teaching and grading that are accurate, bias-resistant and motivating.

Middle and elementary school teachers will continue with standards-based grading and report cards as they have for a number of years.

My high school senior is close to meeting their graduation requirements. What are their options?

High school counselors and principals will be engaging with students on their path to graduation. For specific questions, please contact your student’s counselor. They will be the best resource for helping students understand all their options, including how different course loads could affect post-high school plans or athletics/activities eligibility if and when we are able to return to sports and competitions this year. As in typical years, students who meet graduation requirements during first semester may be able to graduate early. For more information on graduation requirements, please see district policy/procedure 2410.

What could a typical day of remote learning look like for a student and family?

Visit our sample schedules webpage for more information.

Athletics and activities

What’s happening with athletics?

We greatly value athletics and activities in supporting mental and physical health and are working to provide creative opportunities within health guidelines. In October, we shared updates with high school and middle school families. For high school, we have begun a modified return-to-play through Nov. 30.

Here are the latest updates from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) and our high school athletics and activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Over the spring and summer, WIAA modified the 2020-21 sports season calendar to create four shortened seasons and moved moderate- and high-risk sports from fall to spring.

As conditions allow, we are scheduled to begin with WIAA season 2, traditional winter sports, at the end of December 2020; season 3, traditional fall sports, beginning in March 2021; and season 4, traditional spring sports, beginning in May 2021. We will monitor state and WIAA updates and guidance throughout the fall.

You can find more information and specific dates for these adapted seasons for 2020-21 at the WIAA’s website: WIAA: July 28 Action Items and Modified Sports Seasons and WIAA: Clarification on 2020-21 Sports Season Calendar.

WIAA high school seasons for 2020-21:

    • Season 2 – traditional winter sports: Late December, January and February: basketball, bowling, boys swim and dive, gymnastics, wrestling
    • Season 3 – traditional fall sports, March and April: volleyball, girls soccer, football, girls swim and dive, cross country, slowpitch softball, cheerleading, golf, boys tennis
    • Season 4 – traditional spring sports, May and June: girls tennis, fastpitch softball, track and field, baseball, golf, boys soccer, dance/drill
  • The first practice date for season 2 is scheduled for Dec. 28, 2020. Due to shortened seasons, some practices and contests will likely be scheduled on Saturdays and during traditional break periods such as Presidents Day and spring break.
  • Regular season practice and competition for season 4 extends until June 19, 2021.

We will continue to update you on athletics news and decisions. Families can prepare for participation by ensuring the student’s FinalForms information is current and, if possible, uploading a PDF of the current physical. If you have questions about FinalForms, please contact your school’s athletics/activities office.

Bellingham High School and Options High School: Chad Larsen, athletics and activities coordinator; Ann Vallee, administrative assistant: 360-676-6575 ext. 7168

Sehome High School: Colin Cushman, athletics and activities coordinator; Kristin Cerenzia, administrative assistant: 360-676-6481 ext 5201

Squalicum High School: Patrick Brown, athletics and activities coordinator; Pam Behee, administrative assistant: 360-676-6481 ext. 7634

How will the district facilitate peer interaction and in-person athletics and activities; this is a huge priority for the social-emotional health of our children and families.

We absolutely agree with you that children need peer interaction, as well as activities and athletics. We also share your concern about the social emotional well-being of our kids and families –the same goes for our staff and community members, as well. We have staff working hard to develop creative and meaningful ways for us to engage online, and we will also continue to engage in our social-emotional curriculum and supports.