Principal Tim Doering welcomes back an arriving student at Isom Elementary on Tuesday. It was the first day back to live learning for kindergartners through second-graders at Isom, Fisher and Bernice Vossbeck schools. (Calvin Bratt/Lynden Tribune)

Tuesday was a big return day at three schools — on a four-day week for now 

LYNDEN ­— For the first time in exactly seven months, kids in kindergarten through second grade in the Lynden School District came to their schools for in-person learning on Tuesday, Oct. 13.

The last day for schools last spring was March 13, as Gov. Inslee shut down all state schools due to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, buses were operating, but many parents were bringing their children themselves. At Isom Elementary School, the line-up of incoming vehicles created a backup onto Benson Road at about 8:45 a.m.

And it was in a pouring rain, as children wondered exactly where to go and needed to stand in lines for the quick health check-in, now required of students in the COVID era.

“We could have had better weather,” said Isom staff member Mitchell Kornelis, trying to be cheerful, as he guided kindergarten students where they needed to go.

Nearby, new principal Tim Doering was both directing the congested traffic and also welcoming kids and parents as they stepped out on the sidewalk.

Through it all, in-person schooling got restarted in the Lynden School District at the lower elementary level, at least. The scene of return was similar at the Bernice Vossbeck and Fisher schools.

The plan is for grades 3-5 to restart two weeks later, Superintendent Jim Frey reported at the Oct. 8 Lynden School Board meeting, and to see about getting higher grades going in November, he said.

“A lot of it depends on how successful we are” at the K-2 level, he said.

Frey spoke of “an ever-changing environment” in terms of the guidelines that schools must keep track of and comply with in order to get to opening in-person again. These directions might come from the county or state health departments or the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

The process is “not perfect,” Frey said, “but people are working really hard trying to make it work.”

In particular, he said, public health professionals are watching the two-week case rate that in Whatcom County is broken down by school districts. On Tuesday, Oct. 13, the rate stood at 64.8 overall for the county when the goal is to be under 25. It is a number of new cases of the coronavirus per 100,000 people over the previous two weeks. 

The rate was: 64 in the Lynden School District, 72 for Nooksack Valley, 19 for Meridian, 42 for Ferndale, 51 for Blaine, 33 for Bellingham and 0 for Mount Baker. But those rates have been up and down over weeks and months.

Frey said that a rate of 65-70 is elevated from a few months ago when it was closer to the target of 25. He said a rate that stays up close to 75, indicating too much “spread,” could prompt the county health department to clamp down on schools’ in-person operation. And so schools must make plans for not being live as well as being live.

Lynden will be on a four-day instructional week for now, normally with Fridays off to allow for staff planning and readjusting. 

But staff and teachers are “excited to see kids back,” Frey said.