Lynden schools preparing to open for in-person learning

The Lynden School District is preparing to open its doors for some of its youngest students to begin in-person learning in less than two weeks, according to a letter sent to the district’s families on Monday, Sept. 21.

According to the letter from Superintendent Jim Frey, the district has worked on a draft plan that would send some students in kindergarten through second grade back to class on Oct. 5. Other grades would be added incrementally at later dates, with all grades tentatively scheduled to return by the week of Nov. 16.

All dates may be adjusted as the county’s infection rates change, Frey wrote.

“When the decision was made to start remotely, COVID-19 indicators in Whatcom County were trending in the wrong direction,” Frey wrote in the letter. “Since that time those indicators have improved and based on considerations included in the (Washington State) Department of Health Decision Tree document we are planning to start K, 1 and 2 grades by Oct. 5 for students with Option 1.”

Whether Lynden elementary schools will use a hybrid model or open for all students who chose Option 1 — shifting to in-person learning models once it’s deemed safe to do so — will be determined Friday, Sept. 25, according to the Lynden School District’s Phased Reopening Planning Draft released Friday, Sept. 18.

Students whose families chose online learning (Options 2 and 3) will be permitted to shift to in-person learning at the end of the first trimester in late November, Frey wrote.

The Department of Health’s Decision Tree offers statewide public health guidance to all Washington schools on when and if they should open.

Whatcom County Health Officer Dr. Greg Stern offered guidance to schools in an Aug. 31 letter encouraging Whatcom County schools to utilize the Decision Tree, Whatcom Unified Command spokesperson Amy Cloud told The Bellingham Herald in an email.

Dr. Stern remains in frequent contact with the school district about their plans, Cloud reported.

“Whatcom County Health Department has reviewed the plan and provided input in relationship to the considerations included in the Decision Tree document that outlines starting with early education students,” Frey wrote.

According to the Phased Reopening Planning Draft, Whatcom County falls in the “moderate” category of the state’s Decision Tree’s matrix, meaning the county has fewer than 75 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days, its test positivity is greater than 5% and there is an increasing trend in cases or hospitalizations.

“School communities at this level are recommended to engage in distance learning with a consideration to expand to in-person learning for elementary students and over time consider adding hybrid in-person learning for middle and high school students,” the Lynden planning draft reads.

Opening the doors for in-person kindergarten through second-grade learning would be a move to Phase 2, according to the draft plan. Phase 1 already allowed for in-person learning for students:

In the Early Learning Resource Center and whose learning goals can not be met online.

Whose families do not have internet.

With emerging English language skills.

In preschool or kindergarten who have not been in formal school setting.

In the Community Transition program.

In the Individualized Education Plan and whose goals can not be met online.

Who need additional time and support due to learning gaps that would impact their success in school.

Under the plan draft, Phase 3 would allow for in-person learning for grades 3-5 possibly as soon as Oct. 19; Phase 4 would allow for in-person learning for middle school students possibly as soon as Nov. 2; and Phase 5 would allow for in-person learning for high school students possibly as soon at Nov. 16. The learning models (hybrid or full time) for each phase are still to be determined.

“There are many details to be worked out and later this week we will communicate about the specific model (hybrid or full time) and the health and safety protocols that will be in place to keep kids and staff safe in the in-person learning environment,” Frey wrote. “The reopening plan will be reviewed and updated on a regular basis to keep people informed about next steps and adjustment if necessary.”

Here’s what other Whatcom County six other school district report they are doing:

Bellingham Public Schools: According to a Sept. 10 letter from Superintendent Greg Baker, Bellingham is preparing to move to Phase 2 — which is still nearly 100% remote learning — and is working to “identify priority students for who online learning is just not effective.” “We want to be cautious and health-conscious, and we are balancing going slow with the understanding that there are many other groups of students and classes that would benefit from an in-person option, including kindergarten, first grade, physical education and athletics,” Baker wrote.

Blaine School District: Blaine moved to Phase 2 of its reopening plan and welcomed “our first Borderites back to the buildings,” on Monday, Sept. 21, according to the district website. Small groups of students, “those farthest from educational justice,” and some staff returned to class. “It is my hope that we will begin to move forward incrementally over time. We ask that everyone in our communities do their part in staying safe by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing their hands,” Superintendent Christopher Granger wrote in a Sept. 18 letter.

Ferndale School District: Ferndale’s website reports it is in Stage 2 of its reopening plan, which is 100% distance learning, though staff is on-site to plan and deliver online instruction. Students with no internet access are able to be onsite in designated Safe Remote Learning Areas. When the district moves to Stage 3, most students will still practice distance learning while students with the “greatest need” would receive some in-person learning.

Meridian School District: Meridian is following the health department’s guidance to start the school year remotely, according to a Sept. 16 letter from Superintendent James Everett, but the district is assessing moving to a hybrid model “as soon as it was safe to do so.” Everett went on to say, “At the time we identified nine weeks as a potential target. Some of that preparation is to also address the needs of students who require additional services.” The district set up five instructional learning steps for the re-opening process.

Mount Baker School District: Mount Baker is continuing to distribute hot spots to families who have poor or no internet access, according to a Sept. 16 letter from Superintendent Mary Sewright. “There will be challenges that we will have to address as we navigate the times and make this the best experience possible for all students,” Sewright wrote. Small groups of students, including pre-school and elementary life skills students will begin on-site learning Sept. 28, according to the letter, while some Career Technical Education students returned to campus Monday, Sept. 21, for labs, shop and hands-on learning.

Nooksack Valley School District: As of an update Aug. 31 from Superintendent Mark Johnson posted on the district website, Nooksack started with remote learning and would add “small numbers of students in our schools soon thereafter.” Some of those students would be special needs or those with internet connectivity issues, the update stated. Every three to four weeks, conditions would be reviewed. “If all of that is still ‘pointed in the right direction,’ we would be able to add additional numbers of students at each interval,” Johnson wrote, adding that there the goal is to lead to a full hybrid model.

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David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.

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