Local schools seek parent, student feedback before announcing fall plans

“We love our students,” proclaim signs in the windows of Bellingham’s Lowell
Elementary School, echoing the concern of district administrators
planning for reopening of schools in the next several weeks.
District officials are reaching out to parents and students for their
views, to help inform decisions about when and how
to start up this fall. (Amy Nelson photo © 2020)

By Genevieve Iverson

Updated Aug. 7, 2020: see below for individual district’s back-to-school decisions.

As fall school start dates approach, many local districts are waiting to release detailed back-to-school plans amid uncertain COVID-19 health concerns. In the past few weeks, parents and students have been encouraged to participate in a number of communication methods that districts have put in place, such as virtual online calls, surveys and comment portals. 

“Districts are working really hard to talk to their communities and survey parents,” Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal said in a mid-July video. “Increasingly parents and staff are saying they don’t feel safe coming back because cases are on the rise, hospitalizations are on the rise, likely deaths are on the rise in our state until we get it under control.”

Local districts carry the brunt of planning as they are receiving little direction from the governor, state superintendent’s office or health departments on what the right answers are. Information gathered from parents and students will drive what fall plans may end up looking like.

‘Brutally challenging’

“Stay safe,” urges the reader board at Happy Valley Elementary
School in Bellingham. District officials are working with
families via surveys, Zoom conferences and other
outreach as they plan how to reopen schools in the fall while
continuing to keep students healthy. (Amy Nelson photo © 2020)

“Districts are trying to figure out what to share out with their communities regarding next year,” Bellingham superintendent Greg Baker shared in an update. “All of us want children back in school, but no one wants to be the cause for one of our students or staff members to get sick or worse. It’s brutally challenging.”

For districts hoping for a full in-person return, five essential criteria set by the Washington State Health Protection Standards in Schools will need to be met, according to Reykdal:

• Daily screening of students and staff including temperature checks

• Cleaning regimen consistent with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines

• Hand-hygiene procedures in every school

• Mandatory face coverings for all students and staff

• Six feet of physical distancing

Clock is ticking

“Waste not thy hour,” the motto engraved over the
doorway to Whatcom Middle School, might well
apply to the urgency district officials face in
setting plans for the start of school in a few
weeks. (Amy Nelson photo © 2020)

As the clock ticks closer to fall school starts, local districts are rapidly approaching the time when they will need to release plans. At this point:

Ed.: Bellingham, Ferndale, Mount Baker and Meridian schools will begin classes remotely; Bellingham Herald, updated Aug. 7, 2020.

Blaine School District is already moving forward with its plan to give families a choice of a hybrid learning model of alternating weeks, or online-only instruction. Choices were to be submitted by July 30, with parents asked to commit to one model through the first semester. Ed.: Updated Aug. 3, 2020.

Ferndale School District will continue meeting weekly until Aug. 18. The reopening plan will be delivered in a final format by Aug. 19.

Lynden public and Nooksack Valley districts are reaching out to parents and students with specific options, and Mount Baker and Meridian districts are surveying families in the process of developing their plans, the Lynden Tribune reported last week.

Lynden Christian Schools will return to in-person learning this fall with emphasis on face coverings, temperature screenings, six-foot separation in classrooms and cleaning measures in place. Staggered or alternate learning days will not take place unless guidelines change.

Mount Vernon School District continues to review options for return-to-school. Based on released survey results from more 2,500 families, 20% indicated preference in full remote learning, 30% wanted a hybrid of in-school and online learning, and 50% preferred a return to in-school schedule. Ed.: The school district will begin remote classes with some on-campus activities Sept. 2. Updated Aug. 7, 2020.

Anacortes School District families received an electronic survey this week to make preliminary selections about their preferred plan model. Families are required to make their final selections and registration between Aug. 17 and Sept. 4. Ed.: The school district will begin remote classes two weeks later than usual on Sept. 14. Updated Aug. 7, 2020.

San Juan Island School District will have a firm decision by Aug. 7, superintendent Fred Woods said. The board of directors will review two proposed plans, a hybrid model and a remote-learning schedule. Ed.: The San Juan Island district will begin classes remotely on Sept. 3 for nine weeks before re-evaluating. Updated Aug. 7, 2020.

Spring Street International School announced that students will need to be tested prior to returning to school. They are preparing for multiple scenarios and have made no official announcement.

Orcas Island School District will host a live Zoom call on Aug. 5 to discuss back-to-school plans. Ed.: Superintendent Eric Bell will recommend a remote opening to the school board at their Aug. 18 meeting. Updated Aug.7, 2020.

Genevieve Iverson was born, raised and currently resides on San Juan Island. She studied journalism and creative writing at Western Washington University, and is an avid sailor in the Salish Sea.