While distance learning is making education possible for students because of the COVID-19 pandemic, three Cloquet School Board candidates said Wednesday, Oct. 21, they don’t think it should be the norm in a post-pandemic world.

Karin Sabyan, Nate Sandman and Ken Scarbrough spent about an hour answering questions about their views on the direction of the school district during a candidate forum organized by the Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce. Moderator Pete Radosevich said candidates Melissa Juntunen, Kelli Smith and Chelsea Stahlbusch indicated they planned to attend, but did not show up for the event.

The three highest vote-getters will earn seats on the board for the next four years. To watch a replay of the candidate forum, visit https://cloquetmn.new.swagit.com/videos/87477 and start the video at 1:01:01, which is when the school board portion begins.

Sandman, the lone incumbent on the panel, said he doesn’t think distance learning would work as the only educational model in Cloquet, but he thinks it could be implemented, for example, to take the place of snow days.

Scarbrough, who served as superintendent of the Cloquet School District until his retirement two years ago, said the social interactions children have at school help them develop into “a whole person,” and shouldn’t be given up once the pandemic is under control.

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Ken Scarbrough
Ken Scarbrough

From a socialization aspect, Sabyan said she agreed with Scarbrough. As someone who teaches preschool at Queen of Peace Catholic School, Sabyan said she sees firsthand how children learn to be good friends and good people simply by interacting with each other, and that growth continues throughout their academic careers.

“Ultimately, you have to learn how to be part of a community, and in order to do that you have to be in person,” she said.

However, she said she also sees situations where distance learning could work in place of in-person classes. Examples include students who participate in Junior Olympics, go on vacation or those who fall ill. She echoed Sandman in saying it could also be an option on snow days.

Karin Sabyan
Karin Sabyan

The group went on to discuss Cloquet’s facilities and possible improvements to them. Sandman said he thinks the district’s athletic facilities could be improved. He specifically mentioned getting input from the community on transitioning to a turf field. The topic was timely as the Cloquet-Carlton girls soccer team had two games moved to turf fields because of weather.

As for talk that the district will build a new high school, Scarbrough said officials would have to conduct an extensive study on the future demands of a new high school and on the status of the building.

“The burden on the taxpayers is getting substantial and you just need to be careful before you go forward with something like that,” he said.

Sabyan and Sandman agreed with Scarbrough and said the building could use some improvements, but serves its purpose.

“Right now, being that we have a new middle school that’s less than 5 years old, I think we aren’t in a position of going back to the taxpayers asking for a new one,” Sandman said.