While all the speakers during the public comment section encouraged the Blaine school board to “fight” to get students back into the classroom, in a December 15 regular meeting, superintendent Christopher Granger said the Blaine school district will wait for the Whatcom County Health Department to recommend in-person learning for middle and high school students.
The health department recommends school districts continue remote learning for middle and high school students while students in elementary school and students with special needs may continue to return to classrooms, according to a November 19 press release. Whatcom County Health Officer Dr. Greg Stern’s recommendation says younger students transmit the virus less efficiently than older students and adults.
“The benefits of keeping students learning in-person certainly have to be weighed against the risks,” Dr. Stern said, “but those risks are lower for younger students than older ones, and the benefits to them of socializing with teachers and peers are high.”
Many of the speakers discussed the mental health impacts that remote learning has on students and mentioned recent suicides of students in school districts nationwide related to the isolation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sophomore Emma Wydur said she thinks she is losing all her friends because texting, and even talking on the phone or Zoom, does not offer the same type of nuanced connection as being face-to-face with someone.
Granger stressed that it is in the best wishes of the school district to get all students back into the classroom as soon as possible and when it is safe to do so.
“Our commitment to the community is to continue to advocate for students’ access to in-person learning because we know that’s where we would like them to be,” Granger said, adding that there is a continued dialogue with the health department to lift their recommendation for remote learning for sixth to twelfth grade students.
He said the district is preparing teachers to be ready to phase in older students.
“As far as the phase-in, we’ve messaged consistently. We are ready to go, 6-12 [grade],” Granger said. “We have asked all staff to work in the building starting Monday, January 4, so that we can transition into in-person learning on a short notice from the health department.”
Granger said the district simply does not have the square footage to follow the health department’s six-foot distancing rule guidelines recommended to slow the spread of Covid-19.
The Blaine school board also reelected current president Charles Gibson and vice president Laura McKinney for 2021 in a 3-0 quorum with school board members Laura McKinney and Todd Nunamaker absent. Gibson said he wished to abstain from voting for himself but, since only three board members were present, his vote was needed to have a quorum.