Carlton County students may see a different approach to unplanned school cancellations through a strategy known as e-learning, which requires students to learn virtually during unforeseen days away from the classroom, such as snow days.
Minnesota state statutes define e-learning as "a school day where a school offers full access to online instruction provided by students' individual teachers due to inclement weather."
Under the statute, schools are allowed to replace up to five in-person learning days with e-learning days throughout the academic year, provided that they consult with teachers, accommodate students and provide adequate notice to families.
School districts say the main purposes behind e-learning are to help mitigate loss of curriculum throughout the year and prevent disruptions to summer schedules.
While the Barnum and Cloquet school officials have approved e-learning plans, Carlton and Esko officials remain undecided on the topic. Wrenshall school leaders said they will not implement e-learning this year.
Cloquet was the first local school to implement e-learning, originally approving the plan for the 2020-2021 school year. Under Cloquet's plan, e-learning was considered separate from any distance learning that may have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
E-learning days were reserved for emergencies and required students in grades 5-12 to log onto an online learning portal for the day, while elementary students were given a choice board of activities by their teacher.
According to Cloquet Superintendent Michael Cary, Cloquet would still allow for two traditional snow days throughout the year, after which e-learning days would be implemented if more school closures were needed.
Barnum has also decided to implement e-learning through a unanimous school board vote on Tuesday, June 15, with the stipulation that they could change the plan based on the public health situation with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through Barnum's e-learning strategy, students in grades 7-12 will be required to log into an online learning portal and follow instructions for each of their classes, while elementary students will be given an "activity matrix" during school cancellations.
According to the approved plan, e-learning will be implemented at Barnum during all weather-related school closures. If the closure lasts for two consecutive days, new activities will not be assigned on the second day.
In both Barnum's and Cloquet's plans, teachers are required to be available to students for the same amount of time as they would be during a normal school day.
"(E-learning) days cannot replace the face-to-face time students have with their teachers, but it can provide better continuity when school is interrupted," Barnum's plan said.
However, despite the continuity factor, not all school districts are sure e-learning will be right for them.
Esko and Carlton school officials said they have yet to make a decision on the subject, but hope to come to a decision this summer.
“We're still considering the various ramifications," Carlton Superintendent John Engstrom said.
Meanwhile, Wrenshall Superintendent Kim Belcastro has definitively said that Wrenshall will not use e-learning for the upcoming school year and added that she hopes the school board will discuss the subject in the future.