Six north county districts move forward with reopening, nothing finalized yet

WHATCOM — The upcoming school year is going to be anything but ordinary this fall. School districts have been busy preparing plans that follow guidelines set by the state and Department of Health for reopening doors in September.

In an email to families in mid-July, Lynden School District superintendent Jim Frey presented three options for parents and students to choose from for fall learning. 

The first option is in-person learning at school with the number of days students attend depending on classroom capacity and how many students choose the option to be on campus. 

The second option is Lynden Home Connect which is parents taking on the job of teaching with some instruction from school district teachers online.

The final option is full online learning. Instruction would be provided asynchronously and a staff member would keep track of progress and attendance through the program. 

It will also be required that all students and staff members wear face masks unless they have an exemption. 

Classrooms will be set up in a way that keeps student desks six feet apart. There will also be required daily health checks which can be done at home or at school though the details for that are still being worked out. 

“We are also working to establish protocols for cleaning classrooms and schools, transportation, and food services that comply with health and safety guidelines required by the health department and state agencies to open schools,” Frey said to parents in the email.

Lynden Christian intends to be on campus full-time at its schools on Sept. 1. As of mid-July, LCS had started putting together a plan to get students in the buildings in the fall. 

This plan included requiring face masks, spacing student desks six feet apart and frequent cleaning and sanitization procedures to meet state and health department guidelines.

Students at LCS will also have the option for online learning if they choose to stay home or have to stay home.

The Nooksack Valley School District is also presenting three options for families to choose from being at school, at home or online. 

The district said the extent to which it can have in-person learning has not yet been determined. 

The at-home option will provide students the ability to attend school virtually with Nooksack Valley teachers providing the instruction live or through recorded lessons. 

The online option is a little different than the at-home option with it being done through an independent learning platform. Teachers are not Nooksack Valley teachers, but are provided through the learning platform and have online teaching experience. 

Students will be able to check out Chromebooks and wifi hotspots in both the at-home and learning options.

The school district is also leaning toward live streams in grades 6-12. 

Nooksack Valley’s plan is not final yet, but will follow the health department and state guidelines once completed. 

The Mount Baker School District sent out a survey to families about reopening in the fall. The survey received 462 responses with 39 percent being comfortable returning to school with minimal or no concerns, 25.1 percent being comfortable with concerns, 18.8 percent somewhat comfortable and 17.1 percent not comfortable. 

Responses also showed 54.4 percent of families intend to send their children back to school, 40.1 percent answered maybe and 5.5 percent answered no. 

More than half of the responses (57.6 percent) also showed families preferring a hybrid model of online and in-person learning, 23.7 percent supporting a homeschooling model, 14.4 percent preferring an all-remote option and 4.3 percent answered private schooling. 

Superintendent Mary Sewright said in an announcement last week circumstances are changing every day with the pandemic, so nothing is set in stone at the moment. 

“We plan to have a full-on remote learning option that will be more robust than last semester,” she said. “We also plan to have at least one on-site learning option that we are still hammering out based on our capacity to do so following all health and safety guidelines.” 

Equipment and PPE has been ordered to proper cleaning procedures to take place in order to ensure safety. 

The district’s reopening committee will meet Aug. 5 to establish options based on data and needs. Planning will also include continued emphasis on learning, safety and health guidelines. 

Mount Baker will continue to collect data from surveys through the middle of August and place students in learning methods based on that data. 

Chromebooks will also be available for students to check out if a remote learning option is chosen. 

“This year promises to be challenging, but I am also expecting moments of greatness because we are a great community that cares about kids and one another,” Sewright said. 

The Meridian School District also sent out a survey to families with 76 percent of responses indicating they preferred a hybrid model of learning. 

“Our guidance also continues to change, making this process all the more complicated,” superintendent James Everett said. “We have engaged families, staff and our labor groups to find a plan that will allow us to serve our students in as safe and comprehensive a way possible in this new reality.”

The district said it will be able to provide each student with a computer if remote learning is necessary and is working on Internet accessibility for students as well. 

“We want to minimize the number of times we are communicating a plan only to change it days later,” Everett said. “We know each time we are required to change it has a ripple effect as families start planning.”

At its meeting last week, the Ferndale School District Reopening Taskforce discussed different elements of reopening which included equity and access, communication, facilities and operations, social and emotional learning and infrastructure. 

The taskforce previously announced three options for families for the fall which were full-time distance learning, a rotating option of in person and distanced depending on the day of the week or a phased-in option based on student need to be in the classroom. 

Currently, the district is having families choose from the three options for September, though this could change depending on how COVID-19 progresses or regresses. 

Superintendent Linda Quinn said the district has received many questions regarding distance learning.

“To the greatest extent possible, we want to provide our families with options, as long as we can do so safely,” Quinn said. “I want to make sure our families know that we have been working hard all summer to ensure we can offer an improved distance learning program this fall with better tools specifically designed to support teachers in delivering education in an online environment.