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Cloquet schools to return to in-person, hybrid learning Jan. 26

The new learning plan aims to slowly phase students back into the classroom.

File: Cloquet High School
Cloquet High School (Jamie Lund / 2019 File / Pine Journal)

After much discussion, the Cloquet School District is scheduled to resume in person and hybrid instruction Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Beginning on Jan. 26, officials will begin to phase students back into the classroom based on grade level. Per Gov. Tim Walz’s Safe Learning Plan, only three grade levels will be permitted back into each building during the same time period.

Cloquet schools operate out of three buildings with grades together as follows: kindergarten through fourth grade, fifth grade through eighth grade and ninth grade through 12th grade.

According to superintendent Michael Cary, students in kindergarten through second grade and fifth through sixth grade will be brought back in person first, with a two-week phase in for students in grades three and four, who will return in person Feb. 8.

Emergency child care will continue at Zion Lutheran Church for those with children in grades three and four who qualify for the care, Cary said in a recent message to families.

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Students in grades seven and eight will be brought back with a hybrid model starting Jan. 26. High school freshmen and seniors will begin hybrid learning Jan. 28.

Cary said the district received special permission from the Minnesota Department of Health to allow grades five and six to return at the same time as seven and eight. State officials gave Cloquet officials the OK because the two sets of grade levels are separated by different floors and schedules, allowing the district to treat the middle school building as two separate schools.

Grades 10 and 11 will remain in distance learning until Feb. 8, at which point students in kindergarten through eighth grade will be brought back fully in person, with grades nine through 12 in a hybrid model.

Following analysis of student data, the decision was made to bring freshmen and seniors back in a hybrid model before sophomores and juniors because of the number of students struggling. At a recent board meeting, Cary expressed concern about some seniors falling off track for graduation, and freshmen having trouble with the transition to high school. Most high school students who dropout of school do so in grade nine, he said.

Students who chose distance learning as their full-time learning model will be permitted to continue in that model, per Walz’s orders.

There are currently two groups of teachers operating out of the school district: those who teach in person and in the hybrid model, and those who teach distance learning.

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All staff will be offered voluntary COVID-19 tests every two weeks.

Cary acknowledged that there may be varying opinions and concerns in the community regarding the return to in-person and hybrid learning, but said there has been very little evidence of transmission within schools.

“We want to be good stewards of the community, and we don’t want to be putting people at elevated risk,” he said, emphasizing that the district will continue to closely monitor COVID-19 numbers and follow proper guidelines.

A seven-day quarantine period may be possible for staff members who are exposed to COVID-19, given appropriate circumstances and close monitoring by medical professionals, Cary said. These staff members would also be required to maintain 6 feet of distance from others upon their return until the traditional 14 day period is complete. Students will still be required to complete a 14-day quarantine period if they are exposed to COVID-19, he said.

Vickie Smith, aunt and legal guardian to two Cloquet students, said she made the decision to keep her niece and nephew in the distance learning model full-time, because she would not be able to live with herself if they were to pass away as a result of contracting COVID-19.

"I do not think it’s a good idea," she said.

Bobbie Turner, a substitute teacher in the district and parent of two Cloquet students, said she has always preferred having her children in the school building in some capacity, and she misses her students.

"When we moved to [distance learning], both of them started off very self-motivated, but it’s really wearing on my eighth grader," Turner said. "I’ve seen some slip in her diligence."

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Turner added that her children also miss social interactions.

Cary's main concern with reopening is a possible shortage of staff, and he urged anyone interested in substitute teaching to call the district office at 218-879-6721.

This story originally contained a misspelling of Bobbie Turner's name. It was updated at 11:04 a.m. Jan. 15 with the proper spelling. It was originally posted at 5:21 p.m. Jan. 14. The Pine Journal regrets the error.

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