Blaine schools working to phase in some students, and other school news

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New state and federal amendments allowing flexibility for food service and transportation funding are coming as the Blaine school district plans to open its doors to a small cohort of students before the end of the month.

On August 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its Food and Nutrition Service would extend free meals to students until December 31, or until funds run out. The waiver means summer meal programs can continue operating, which include exemptions allowing meals to be served outside normal locations and times and allows guardians to pick up meals for their students.

Children up to 18 years old can receive five breakfasts and five lunch meals on Wednesdays in the parking lot behind the Borderite stadium grandstands. Pick up times will be 12-2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. The school district asks families who qualify for free and reduced meals to still fill out their application, although not needed to receive meals this semester, so the district can continue to receive additional funding for school programs.

The USDA is unable to guarantee funding through the 2020-21 school year because Congress has not yet allocated enough money. Summer meal program waiver extensions are based on current data estimations, according to its news release.

This follows an August 26 proclamation governor Jay Inslee issued that amended the transportation budget to include delivering student meals, similar to last spring that previously expired for the upcoming school year. The budget will also allow transportation of education materials, technology like WiFi hotspots and roundtrip transportation of students to
learning centers.

The governor’s proclamation will expire when the state of emergency is lifted, or if the proclamation is amended or rescinded.

The district is also working to phase students into the building on Monday, September 21. The first phase of adding students into the building will start with those who could disproportionately be affected by remote learning: Students experiencing homelessness, students in life skills, students without internet access, and preschool students.

In an August 31 letter from Whatcom County health officer Dr. Greg Stern to superintendents, Stern gave a strong recommendation that school districts take a cautious approach to begin in-person learning.

“With the encouraging change in rates of community transmission, I support schools in planning to operate within these guidelines when they are prepared to implement the measures appropriate for current or higher transmission levels, to expand services slowly, and to be prepared to constrict should conditions require restriction measures,” Stern’s letter reads.

Blaine school district superintendent Christopher Granger said he believes adding what he predicts will be about 100 students to the building is the right thing to do and feels confident in the school district’s staff to adapt to the evolving circumstances.

The Whatcom County Health Department asked superintendents on August 4 to strongly consider starting the school year remotely, after Covid-19 cases in the county seemed like they were going to rise past the 75 new cases per 100,000 people in a two-week period threshold. This threshold is recommended by the Washington Department of Health in its suggested guidance for in-person learning.

The Blaine school district has the fourth highest rate of Covid-19 cases in Whatcom County during the most recent two-week period, reported September 8 by the Whatcom County Health Department. Blaine has a rate of 34 cases per 100,000 people and has had 68 cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the health department data.

“Even when we move in the right direction for people entering the building, it’s still a fluid situation,” Granger said. “We don’t want to take any steps backward if we can avoid it and that will be a community effort.”

To help the school district distribute free meals, fill out the weekly online order form at bit.ly/2ZlaXlb.

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