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Meridian joins other public school districts across Whatcom County in beginning the 2020-21 school year remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Brent Lindquist/Lynden Tribune)

Lynden last to decide Monday; LC will stay in-person, though

WHATCOM ­— Following recommendations from the Whatcom County Health Department and the state, all county public school districts will be starting the 2020-21 school year remotely. 

At its Monday, Aug. 10, special board meeting, the Lynden School Board voted to start the school year in a distance learning mode, following suit with other school districts that announced the same message last week. 

The process was set in motion after county Health Officer Dr. Greg Stern recommended on Aug. 4 that local school administrators plan for a remote opening, saying “I do not feel it is safe to open schools in September for traditional classroom learning.”

The Lynden School Board met more than once in a week.

“This is a difficult time and difficult situation and, in many cases, hard to find a right answer,” Lynden Superintendent Jim Frey said. “The best answer is given what we know.”

It was a split vote on the distance learning model to start the school year. Of the five elected members of the Lynden School Board, Kelli Kettels voted no, as did student member Riley Anderson.

“I want to be in-person because when I had online school I really struggled with staying motivated or even communicating with my teachers because I had so many distractions at home,” said Anderson, who will be a senior this fall at the high school.

Frey said the district will look at coronavirus trends in the county at regular intervals with the Whatcom County Health Department to develop a plan to move to in-person learning when it’s safe to do so. 

There’s currently no timetable for a return to the classroom because district services such as transportation and meals would also need to be geared up for students back on campus. Returning to the classroom also heavily relies on the county COVID rates as a whole.

“We’re looking at the whole community because Lynden is not isolated in the sense that people are only in Lynden, so we’re looking at it countywide,” Frey said. 

The Lynden School District now joins the Ferndale, Meridian, Mount Baker, Nooksack Valley, Blaine and Bellingham school districts in starting the new school year remotely. 

The Whatcom County Health Department, through Stern, made its recommendation last week that schools start online and all local districts except Lynden had made announcements last week, after board and administrator meetings, that they’d be following that recommendation. 

The Ferndale School District announced it will start the school year with all, or nearly all, students in a distance learning mode. The only ones on campus will be students with the greatest need for in-person learning, with all health and safety guidelines being followed. 

“I know this decision to have the majority of our students learning remotely is going to create hardships for many families,” Ferndale Superintendent Linda Quinn said. “Even though we are working hard to mitigate the challenges some of them faced in the spring, I suspect distance learning is going to intensify inequities.”

The Meridian School District also announced it has made investments in technology and professional development to create a smoother online learning experience. 

“We acknowledge the burden of remote learning places on many of our families,” Meridian Superintendent James Everett said. “We also know that this must look different than it did in the spring and we will work to create the best possible educational experience for children and families.”

Mount Baker staff will be allowed in campus buildings as long as safety protocols are followed. The district also plans to bring back small groups of students who need specialized instruction as soon as it is safe to do so. 

Nooksack Valley has moved back its first school day to Sept. 8 to allow training for staff and parents, and to distribute Chromebooks to students for online learning. 

“I went into this business because I have a heart for children and to serve my community,” Nooksack Valley Superintendent Mark Johnson said in an announcement. “I also pride myself in working together to find solutions to complex problems. Unfortunately, there are no ‘right’ answers here. There are only best choices based on the current information we have. If we could find a better path forward, I would have recommended it.”

Private Lynden Christian School, after board and administrator meetings, decided to stay on track with its plan, announced earlier, to start classes in-person Sept. 1 following all state-set guidelines on distancing and face coverings.