Carlton School Board postpones decision on COVID-19 protocols, hears parents on tuition agreement

The school board is expected to make a decision on masking and other COVID-19 related policies at a special meeting on Aug. 30.

Carlton High School.JPG
Carlton High School. (Katie Rohman / 2019 file / Pine Journal)

Carlton School Board members decided to delay making a decision about face masks and other COVID-19 related protocols for the school year until closer to its start.

Meanwhile, the board also heard concerns from several parents present at the meeting on Monday, Aug. 16, about a possible tuition agreement with Cloquet Public Schools.

Face masks to be decided on later

The board will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m., Aug. 30 to address COVID-19 protocols for the year. Superintendent John Engstrom presented the board with examples of protocols from neighboring schools such as McGregor and Duluth.

"I've been having Zoom calls to discuss this with our fellow superintendents, and what I'm seeing a lot of are districts setting a recommendation and then waiting to see if anything changes," Engstrom said. "We're all hoping to start the year as normally as possible, but also safely."

Board member Ann Gustafson requested that the board get more information about COVID-19 infection rates among youth in Carlton County before they make final decisions.


"It's a lot to absorb and I think we need a better understanding of where we're at before we set a policy," Gustafson said. "Also we should decide at what point we'd change recommendations. If things get so much better or worse, we should be able to make changes."

The board didn't take any action as far as COVID-19 protocols Monday, other than setting the date for the special meeting.

Parents speak against tuition agreement with Cloquet

A half a dozen parents of current or former Carlton Public Schools students shared their opinions on the district's move to continue talks on a possible tuition agreement to send Carlton's high school students to Cloquet as soon as fall 2022. All of the speakers were against the move.

PREVIOUSLY: Tuition agreement divides Carlton School Board

Ryan Schmidt, a parent, teacher and baseball coach, thanked the board for the thoughtful discussion on the topic thus far.

"I understand that you have a difficult job here," Schmidt said. "It's not an easy thing to discuss."

Schmidt said he didn't like the perception amongst the board that students didn't receive a good education at Carlton.

"Our kids aren't getting a bad education here. They do well when they go on to college interviews," Schmidt said. "The idea that they're getting short-changed here is just not true."


Schmidt said he believes families will end up moving to other districts rather than stay for a K-8 education.

"Cloquet is not what we want," Schmidt said. "And I understand the urge to treat this like a business discussion and impersonal. But education is emotional. You have to put the emotion back into these discussions."

As if to illustrate Schmidt's point, parent Skye Fleisch teared up while speaking to the board and describing why she chose to move her family into the district.

"We moved here for the small community, for the small classes. We didn’t want our kids to go to Cloquet,” Fleisch said. “When our oldest went there, she was bullied horribly. Our kids feel safe here.”

While the tuition agreement was not on the agenda for discussion at Monday's board meeting, board chair Julianne Emerson took a moment to address the concerns raised by parents.

"I agree, this is an emotional decision," Emerson said. "And I'm not without empathy. I'd ask you here to continue to reach out to us in whatever means you find most comfortable. I appreciate everything that was shared tonight, and we hear you."

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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The second public hearing on the topic is scheduled for March 9, and is being held after residents provided comments and concerns during the first hearing on Jan. 26.
As reported by Carlton County District Court.
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