Wrenshall’s youngest students will be returning to the classroom sooner than expected following an emergency school board meeting Tuesday, Sept. 22.

The board voted unanimously to return students in Pre-K and kindergarten to the classroom in the hybrid learning model the school year started with as soon as next week, Superintendent Kim Belcastro said.

“Our pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers are really struggling,” Belcastro said. “They really do not feel that they can provide the best possible education for our students by doing a virtual program.”

Board chair Michelle Blanchard, who works in the Duluth School District, said she understands the teachers’ perspective.

“I taught kindergarten for years. I think it would be difficult to expect 4- and 5-year-olds to be sitting in front of a computer trying to learn,” Blanchard said. “I don’t think it’s feasible. I don’t think it’s realistic, either.”

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Belcastro said the school would work closely with parents and guardians to try to meet the needs of their children as they return to school or if they opt for distance learning.

Wrenshall announced Monday, Sept. 21, it was closing the school for two days this week and moving to a full distance learning model for all students until Nov. 9. The school was struggling to cover classes after 5% of its teachers were sent home due to COVID-19 symptoms. Other non-teacher staff have also been out with symptoms of the disease.

Board member Janaki Fisher-Merritt, one of four board members attending the meeting virtually, stressed only one member of the Wrenshall staff has tested positive for COVID-19 and that person wasn’t in a “direct teaching role” with students.

“This isn’t like an outbreak at school,” Fisher-Merritt said. “What it is is we have a lot of people with symptoms of COVID, which could be all kinds of things like allergies and colds ... We just don’t know because tests haven’t come back yet or people haven’t been diagnosed with it and we have to err on the side of caution.”

For now, only the youngest students will be returning to school, but Blanchard said she hopes the school can “use a staggered approach” for older elementary students returning to the building in a hybrid model. The hope is eventually only high school students will be left on a distance learning until Nov. 9.

“I think that’s a nice way of thinking of it,” Belcastro said. “We can just slowly, hopefully get them to come back in a little bit of a progression. I think that does make sense.”