The Cloquet School Board passed a resolution to follow the guidelines for a safe learning plan during the COVID-19 pandemic recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Education.

The board held an emergency meeting Tuesday, Aug. 4 to discuss an overview of the state school opening plan and how it pertains to the Cloquet School District.

“We don't have the freedom to choose what learning model we want,” Superintendent Michael Cary said. He explained to the board members that the district must implement the plan that adheres to the guidelines set by MDH and MDE.

Cary said all school districts are required to offer distance learning for the entire school year in addition to the chosen learning model. He said parents should plan for either all in-class learning and a hybrid of in-class and virtual learning.

The district needs to decide which plan they will follow by Aug. 26 — two weeks before school starts on Sept. 9.

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The school district has a survey on its website for families to fill out about the learning options they prefer.

As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 4, there were 967 responses. Cary said that the district asked parents to fill out one survey for each child in their family, but he was not sure if the responses submitted so far were submitted per family or per student. There are 2,600 students in the district.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they would send their children for in-class learning, Cary said, while 22% said they would not. Of the respondents who answered no, 95% said their children would use distance learning.

When asked about the hybrid model of learning, 86% of respondents said yes and 14% said they would not send their children. Of those who would not send their children to school for a hybrid model, 86% said they would utilize distance learning.

Board member Hawk (Gary) Huard asked if parents can choose to switch their children to the other model once school is underway. For example, can parents choose distance learning at first, then switch and send the child to school later in the year?

Students can switch models, Cary said. However, the district is encouraged to prioritize in-person learning, especially for elementary students.

“Health data shows that younger children are less susceptible to getting COVID-19 and spreading it,” Cary read from the school planning guide from MDH.

Both in-person learning and the hybrid model require social distancing, good hygiene and students and staff to wear masks to minimize exposure, according to the planning guide. The hybrid model also requires that students and staff stay 6 feet apart.

The planning guide says that students will be required to wear face masks in school all day except while eating, drinking or during high intensity activities. Students with behavioral health issues who may not be able to handle a mask all day will be exempt.

Officials will be required to clean buildings daily and high touch surfaces more often, the document said.

School buses can fill to maximum capacity if the schools are fully open. Students will be required to wear a mask on the bus, according to MDH guidelines.

If the school district opens with the hybrid model, buses can fill to 50% capacity, according to the planning guide. Students would need to stay 6 feet away from each other and wear masks.

“We’re going to have to get used to masks, it’s part of the landscape now,” Cary said.

Principals at Cloquet Schools will have their plans for both in-class and hybrid learning completed by Friday, Aug. 14.

District officials will monitor COVID-19 data for Carlton County from August 17-21 to help guide them on which model the district should use, Cary said.

The board will follow the guidelines set by MDE and MDH and decide which learning model meets the criteria for the Cloquet School District at its meeting Monday, Aug. 24. Once a decision has been made the district will share the information with families.

Cary said according to the guidelines set by the state, the Cloquet School District would open fully for all students if the numbers held steady for the next five weeks.

“We want to give families time to plan, but we don't want to decide so early that conditions change,” Cary said.