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More than lesson plans: How one Washington school district is planning in the pandemic

A empty classroom is pictured at McGee Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Friday, Sept. 5, 2014. From school closures to travel restrictions to limits on large gatherings, Canada entered a new stage in combating the spread of COVID-19 this week with measures that various experts say will almost certainly have unintended consequences. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Some Bellingham students already have computers, but lesson plans aren't the only focus for educators

Maintaining things like social education and support for mental health services are also keys, the district says

A former educator in B.C. says teachers in the province are ill-equipped to deal with remote learning

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (NEWS 1130) – It’s a question with neither obvious nor simple answers for school administrators — how to take a centuries-old formal system of education, put it online, and ensure kids are getting educated.

“We can’t just flip a switch and put everything online,” says Dana Smith, communications manager with the Bellingham School District.

But since Governor Jay Inslee ordered schools in the state to close their physical buildings, districts have been scrambling to figure out how to flip that switch. Schools in the state were given the week to prepare how they were going to offer remote learning.

Bellingham has a bit of an advantage after asking the community to approve money for technology, years before anyone was pandemic planning. That means many students already have tablets they can take home – and for kids who don’t have that, the district is working to get them what they need.

“We’re just doing our best to connect with our families and stay in touch with everyone,” Smith says. It’s still unknown if students will be able to return to their physical classrooms at all during the remainder of the school year.

More than figuring out specific lesson plans and particular pieces of technology, Smith says there are other important pieces of the educational puzzle that need to be taken into account.

Schools are a very unique entity in our society, as each school becomes a hub of support for students and their families, Smith says.

“We have constant learning, and that’s our core work, but we also engage in social and emotional learning, child development, mental health, and so much more.”

Figuring out how the district will continue to provide those opportunities is an ongoing process.

“We’re all in this together, and we have a lot of really smart and thoughtful people who always want to put kids and families first.”

Right now, she’s asking the community for grace — saying that they’re trying to take a system that wasn’t designed to work remotely, and do something different with it.

Schools in B.C. are also working on how they’ll transition to remote learning, with one expert telling NEWS 1130 teachers in the province are ill-equipped for the shift.