Public school superintendents in Aitkin, Carlton, Cass, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, Pine and St. Louis counties are asking residents to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines so schools can stay open.
Thirty-two superintendents from 34 districts signed the letter, shared with the News Tribune and Cloquet Pine Journal on Friday, which said: "We're writing to you today to ask for your help."
"We are four weeks into the year and already schools in our seven-county region have had to adjust their learning models from either in person to hybrid or hybrid to distance learning due to sharp increases in positive COVID-19 cases," the letter says. "This is disappointing for everyone involved."
Since the start of the school year Ely Public Schools switched their secondary school students from in person to hybrid. Wrenshall Public Schools switched from hybrid to full distance learning. Grand Rapids Public Schools started the school year with every student in person, but beginning Oct. 20 the only grades that will remain in person will be kindergarten through second grade.
Based on the most recent 14-day case rates per 10,000 people released by the Minnesota Department of Health, all school districts in Pine County will have to switch to full distance learning, just a month into school, if they haven't already,
These are just a few examples of how an increase in COVID-19 cases has changed how schools educate their students.
“We want our kids in school as much as possible. You, the great people in our communities, have said you also want our kids in school,” the letter says. “We know of only one way that gives us the best chance at safely keeping our kids in school, sports and activities. We need your help.
“The information is nothing you haven’t already heard but bears repeating as it’s going to take all of us to make a difference. Please help us keep cases low and our kids in school by following the very clear guidelines offered by (the Minnesota Department of Health).”
The letter goes on asking community members to avoid crowds, stay 6 feet from others, wash your hands, keep family and social gathering outdoors, wear a mask and stay home when sick.
“Do it for our kids,” the letter ends.
Minnesota Department of Health policy states that if the range of 14-day case rates per 10,000 people is zero to nine, in-person learning for all students can occur.
If case rates are 10-19 per 10,000 people, elementary schools can be in person, while secondary schools would be in hybrid; 20-29, all schools would be hybrid; 30-49, elementary schools could be hybrid, while secondary schools would be distance learning; and 50 or more, all students would be distance learning.
At the beginning of the school year, the 14-day case rate per 10,000 people for weeks Aug. 16-29 was 3.16 in Aitkin County; 9.00 in Carlton County; 6.89 in Cass County; zero in Cook County; 9.73 in Itasca County; 3.16 in Koochiching County; 8.52 in Lake County; 9.27 in Pine County; and 10.45 in St. Louis County.
The most recent numbers released by the Department of Health are from Sept. 13-26. The rate in Aitkin County is now 12.63; 18.85 in Carlton County; 26.19 in Cass County; 1.88 in Cook County; 23.01 in Itasca County; 21.35 in Koochiching County; 14.19 in Lake County; 56.64 in Pine County; and 27.89 in St. Louis County.
The following superintendents signed the letter:
Dan Stifter, Aitkin Public Schools.
Mike McNulty, Barnum Public Schools.
John Engstrom, Carlton Public Schools.
Janey Blanchard, Chisholm Public Schools.
Michael Cary, Cloquet Public Schools.
Bill Crandall & Megan Meyers, Cook County Public Schools.
Nathan Libbon, Cromwell-Wright Public Schools.
Jeff Pesta, Deer River Public Schools.
John Magas, Duluth Public Schools.
Erik Erie, Ely Public Schools.
Aaron Fischer, Esko Public Schools.
Rae Villebrun, Floodwood Public Schools.
Matt Grose, Grand Rapids Public Schools.
David Pace, Greenway Public Schools.
Wayne Whitwam, Hermantown Public Schools.
Richard Aldrich, Hibbing Public Schools.
Pat Rendle, Hill City Public Schools.
Kevin Grover, International Falls Public Schools.
Bill Crandall and Jay Belcastro, Lake Superior Public Schools.
Jamie Wendt, Littlefork/Big Falls Public Schools.
Brad Johnson, McGregor Public Schools.
Gregg Allan, Mesabi East Public Schools.
Billie Jo Steen, Moose Lake Public Schools.
Reggie Engebritson, Mountain Iron/Buhl Public Schools.
Brenda Spartz, Nashwauk/Keewatin Public Schools.
Peter Hardy, Nett Lake Public Schools.
Dena Hagen, Northern Lights Academy.
Brian Yuretich, Northland Learning Center.
Pat Rendle, Northland Community Public Schools.
John Engelking, Proctor Public Schools.
Noel Schmidt, Rock Ridge Public Schools.
Reggie Engebritson, St. Louis County Public Schools.
Bill Peel, Willow River Public Schools.
Kim Belcastro, Wrenshall Public Schools.
This story was updated at 10:46 a.m. Oct. 9 with additional quotes from the letter and the names of the superintendents who signed it. It was originally posted at 9:17 a.m. Oct. 9.