Letter to Families Information Update (May 15, 2020)

Friday, May 15 Update Infographic

A letter to families from Superintendent Dr. Linda Quinn sent Friday, May 15, 2020 with an information update. This update is also available at www.ferndalesd.org/covid-19 along with past updates and additional resources.

Dear Ferndale Families,

I hope that you are all doing well and that you have enjoyed the beautiful weather we have had over the last week. It is beginning to feel a bit like summer.

Speaking of summer, I want to share with you something I introduced to our Ferndale School District staff on Wednesday. What I shared with them is that I am coming to the realization (along with many others in the world) that things are not likely going to be back to “normal” this summer. In fact, we may not be returning to “the way things used to be” for a long time. Going back to school in the fall of 2020 probably won’t look like it did in the fall of 2019. More and more professional meetings and journals are focusing on what reopened schools might look like, so I have started compiling a list of the ways people are predicting things will be changed. In order to provide as much physical distancing as possible, these changes might include:

  • Some kind of staggered attendance with students coming for partial days or every other day.
  • Continued reliance to some extent on remote learning and educational technology.
  • Reconfiguration of instruction to maximize in-person time.
  • Health screening of students and staff before allowing them to enter a school facility.
  • More masks and other personal protective gear.
  • Installation of hand-sanitizing stations.
  • Increased sanitization of classrooms and buses.
  • Plexiglas barriers.
  • Desks spaced six feet apart.
  • Lunch served in classrooms instead of the cafeteria.
  • Alternating class times to minimize the number of people in hallways.
  • Distancing marks on playgrounds.
  • Use of bathrooms one at a time.
  • Appointments for individual face-to-face tutoring sessions in the gymnasium.
  • A prohibition on assemblies or other large gatherings.
  • Athletic contests without fans in the stands.

No one has said for sure that these specific accommodations will be in place next fall. However, OSPI is recommending that (1) we begin to prepare for something other than business as usual in September, and (2) we don’t lock into any one particular plan until we receive more guidance from the state. To that end, the state is currently convening a group of a hundred or so educational stakeholders to take up the work of developing guidelines for reopening schools. Ferndale School Board member Lee Anne Riddle has been invited to be part of that group.

Planning for all of the scenarios we could possibly face next fall is a little overwhelming. However, I believe we are doing everything we can in Ferndale right now to be as prepared as possible for whatever changes come our way.

The more I have been thinking about all of this, the more I have become convinced the top three character traits we need to hone in 2020 are flexibility, resilience, and compassion. Fortunately, I continue to see so much evidence of all three every week. Thank you for the flexibility and compassion you have shown for us as we have reconfigured every aspect of our educational program -- everything except our love and care for your children.

In the remainder of this letter, I want to provide answers to some of the questions I have received recently:

Q: When will the Ferndale School District provide a time when I can pick up my children’s belongings from school buildings?
A: At elementary and middle schools, our principals developed a schedule for teachers and paraeducators to come in this week, bag students’ belongings, tag each bag with a student’s name, and arrange all the bags in the gym or another large area within their school.

Next week, elementary and middle school parents will have four times when they can come to the school to pick up their children’s bags. Principals will arrange to have staff runners on hand during these hours to go into the building, retrieve the bags, and deliver them to parents’ cars. The four pick-up times are as follows:

  • Monday, May 18, 11:00 am-1:00 pm
  • Wednesday, May 20, 11:00 am-1:00 pm
  • Wednesday, May 20, 5:00 pm-7:00 pm
  • Friday, May 22, 11:00 am-1:00 pm

We will do our best to deliver any belongings that are not picked up during one of these four times.

The high school administration will be publishing a schedule for their students to pick up personal items after May 26.

Q: How can I provide feedback regarding our current distance learning experience?
A: We definitely want to hear your feedback. For this purpose, we developed a confidential survey that asks you to tell us how you are doing and how the school district might be able to better support you. These surveys represent our way of checking in at the halfway point between the first day our school buildings were closed (March 17) and the last day of the 2019-2020 school year (June 19). In addition to sending the surveys electronically earlier this week, we have also had them available in hard copy, in several languages, at our learning packet distribution sites.

If you haven’t already taken the survey, here is the link to the online version: https://surveys.panoramaed.com/ferndale/communitysurvey
Note: If you are prompted to enter an access code, please use: "communitysurvey"

If you would prefer a hard copy survey, you can still get one at your school’s learning packet distribution site on Monday, May 18.

Thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts (anonymously).

Q: I read a story about Ferndale School District employees making masks. Are there masks available to the community?
A: This is a story that I absolutely delight in telling you. A dedicated group of Ferndale School District staff has been making cloth face masks for people in our community since shortly after our school buildings were closed. On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, they distributed hundreds of free masks to District staff, families, and community members from the FHS parking lot.

Several great partnerships have grown out of these mask making efforts. Bellingham Makerspace donated the elastic to the team, as well as providing them with sewing machines. Recently, the fire fighters from Station 41 on Washington Street donated $500 for mask materials. In exchange, our mask makers are supplying masks for the firefighters to fill the community pick-up box they’ve placed outside their station, as well as for them to give away anytime they go out on a call. 

If any of you like to sew and have some extra time, the mask-making team would love to have you join them. They will provide you with "kits" that have enough precut fabric and elastic to make 10 masks. Every Sunday or Monday you will get a delivery of as many of these kits as you request. Then the following week, your finished masks will be picked up and more kits will be delivered. I want to thank the dedicated Ferndale School District paraeducators who have been working on this project.

Q: Is the Ferndale School District taking student attendance?
A: Last week (May 4-8) was the first week we asked all of our teachers to start recording engagement with students and families in Skyward in order to comply with the state’s new attendance taking requirements. (Note: Engagement for attendance purposes does not necessarily mean students are successfully completing their schoolwork, only that they are still connecting with us and remain part of our school community.) These student engagement/attendance records will be reported to the state.

Q: What are we doing to celebrate the Class of 2020?
A: A team of administrators and staff at Ferndale High School are continuing to work with seniors and parents to develop the best way(s) to honor the achievements of the Class of 2020 in our new physically-distanced world.

The state has recently come out with guidance allowing that, as in the past, senior students may be dismissed five days before the last day of school for everyone else. Therefore, Friday, June 12, will be the final school day for the members of the Class of 2020. That evening, we are planning (in conjunction with the City and the Police Department) Some kind of Senior Parade.

Commencement itself will occur on Saturday, June 13, in one of two formats -- either (1) a virtual ceremony produced with help from Jostens or (2) a modified in-person ceremony with students arriving in cars (one student and family per car) to a designated area on the campus to pick up their diploma. The high school administration put out a survey this week to allow students to vote on which of these two options they prefer.

The high school staff is also working on virtual versions of scholarship night and the School Board’s traditional honoring of outstanding seniors in each discipline.

Q: You said that a decision regarding athletics and activities would be coming by May 15. Do you have an update?
A: Let me start by saying this: Levies fund sports and activities in almost all school districts in Washington state. That is one of the reasons that we have levies. We recognize the positive impact sports and activities have on kids, and we, as citizens of a given district, decide together to make up the difference between state funding and local need. That is the reality of school funding in Washington.

That leaves us in a tough spot here in Ferndale. You are probably familiar with the vast body of research regarding the influence of sports and activities on students. It is very clear that without these opportunities, students suffer. As you also know, Ferndale did not pass the school district’s replacement levy last February. In addition to almost one hundred district staff members who are losing their jobs, one of the casualties of our levy failure should be athletics and activities for students. I say, “should” because without the levy, we do not have money earmarked for these activities.

What I am sharing with you today is that we have made a decision to save a version of our athletics and activities programs in Ferndale next year. The cost to students is too high to consider doing otherwise and, ultimately, that cost would have been born by students who are already navigating the challenging waters of a global pandemic.

We are still developing the details of our funding plan for athletics and activities, but we know it will involve the following elements:

  • Using savings realized by not running a full schedule of spring sports in 2020.
  • Instituting a pay-to-play fee for those students whose families can afford it.
  • Finding scholarships for those students whose families cannot afford pay-to-play fees.
  • Reducing transportation costs wherever possible.
  • Reducing staff costs wherever possible, including replacing some support positions that are currently paid with volunteers.
  • Eliminating “C” teams from our athletic program.
  • Changing our middle school athletic programs from interscholastic to intramural.
  • Soliciting donations.

We are committing to athletics and activities for the 2020-2021 school year. However, we do not believe our plan is sustainable beyond that time period unless the levy passes in November. We will follow up with more specific details as they become available.  

If you haven’t already had enough to read, I encourage you to check out the stories written and published last week by members of our Communication Team about our retiring teachers. You can find all of the stories in our series here.

I think that’s everything for this week. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have additional questions or suggestions.

Take care and stay healthy.