Cloquet Public Schools will begin distance learning for all grade levels next week. Superintendent Michael Cary cited a rapid spike in COVID-19 cases as the main reason for the switch in a news release Wednesday.

"This spike has led to large-scale quarantine of students and staff and is crippling our ability to provide in-person schooling, along with meeting the other requirements placed upon schools," Cary said. "We had sincerely hoped to keep our students learning in person for as long as possible."

The shift to full distance learning will begin Tuesday for students in grades 7-12, due to a staff development day scheduled for Monday.

Grades K-6 will continue in-person instruction through Wednesday, Nov. 11. There will be no school for K-6 students Nov. 12-13 to allow staff to prepare for the transition. The first day of distance learning instruction for K-6 students will be Nov. 16.

"We understand the importance of in-person instruction for student learning and understand the reliance of many families on schools for childcare in order to maintain employment," Cary said. "Please know that we will monitor the situation closely and will consider a shift back to in-person models as soon as we are reasonably able."

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Cary said the district monitored the local COVID-19 case rates in the county. Until recently, the case rates in the county hovered around 20 cases per 10,000 residents. Over the past seven days, the county went from seeing an average of five new cases per day to 25-30 new cases.

In anticipation of a county case rate data in excess of 50 cases per 10,000 residents, the district is following Minnesota Department of Health guideline recommendations to switch to full distance learning.

Cary also cited quarantine requirements for close contacts has left the district with severe staff shortages as a contributing factor for shifting to distance learning.

"We have seen districts in Northeastern Minnesota close down grade levels or buildings due to staff shortage. Unfortunately, we are now in a similar circumstance," Cary said. "Our ability to safely staff our classrooms is very near a breaking point and is trending in the wrong direction."

Cary advised parents to keep an eye out for future communications from the schools about the distance learning format, food service, extracurricular activities and emergency childcare guidelines for qualifying families.