The Cloquet School District is terminating 17 staff members as a result of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.

The employees leaving the district were serving in full-time and part-time positions temporarily created in order to meet school needs during the pandemic. Some of the terminated contracts were one-year hires, such as additional cleaning, technology and distance-learning staff, while others were classified as probationary teaching positions.

According to Superintendent Michael Cary, staff were told upon hire that the positions were only slated to last for one year.

Anticipated reduction in COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming academic year resulted in a unanimous vote by the Cloquet School Board on Monday, April 26, to terminate most staff contracts created during the pandemic.

“It’s a lot of movement,” Cary said. “We’re kind of undoing ... many of the things that we did at the beginning of the year.”

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He explained that in addition to the nonrenewal of contracts, there will also be shifts in remaining staff positions and new positions created based on evolving student needs.

Some existing positions, like that of the elementary distance learning specialist, are being reduced, while others, like that of the district van driver, are being increased.

Cary said all changes are being done out of foreseeable shifts in on-campus activities, such as the resuming of swimming classes and an increased focus on student mental health.

He said the district expects more students will be learning in person, while simultaneously recovering from negative experiences from the past year.

New hires geared toward this prediction include an interventionist teaching position to help with student credit recovery and a mental health teacher.

Cary explained that while they are taking a conservative approach to staffing at the moment, future district actions will be dictated by needs observed after the return of students in the fall.

The unpredictable nature of the situation led to concerns voiced by board member Gary Huard, who said schools could be left unprepared given the ever-changing pandemic situation. He said there may still be a need for certain COVID-related staff positions, such as the additional custodians.

However, Cary assured that there is plenty of federal funding available if needs for more staff arise.

“We’ve got a ton of backup,” he said, citing $1.3 million recently received by the district through a third round of stimulus funds.

All current decisions are based on what Cary called “reasonable speculation” and are subject to change.