‘It felt like the last day of school’

Carlton, Wrenshall school districts have less time than others to prepare for working remotely with students because of scheduled spring breaks.

A model of the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China in late 2019. U.S. health officials have stated that COVID-19 is expected to become a significant public health concern in the United States. (Illustration courtesy of Centers for Disease Control)
Contributed / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

There are still more than two months of school scheduled, but students at Wrenshall School spent part of Monday, March 16, cleaning out their lockers.

“It felt like the last day of school, it really did,” Superintendent Kim Belcastro told the Wrenshall School Board at its meeting later that day.

Carlton and Wrenshall are both scrambling to prepare for the beginning of distance learning as children stay home to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Gov. Tom Walz issued an executive order that closed schools starting Wednesday, March 18.

The districts’ spring breaks are March 23-27, meaning teachers have just three days after children start staying home to iron out the details before distance learning begins March 30.

Belcastro and Carlton Superintendent Gwen Carman were on a call with the Minnesota Department of Education Monday and other superintendents from districts around the state.


Belcastro and Carman spent much of the day assessing how many students don’t have internet at home or don’t have internet-connected devices to use away from school.

Belcastro said Wrenshall had only 10 students in grades 6-12 without access to a device at home and just a handful don’t have wireless internet access.

Google Chromebooks are available to a higher percentage of students at Carlton, according to Carman. The school has been hesitant to send the devices home with students in grades 6-8, but the policy could change as the schools prepare for an extended period of distance learning.

There was still a lot of uncertainty over a number of different issues related to the coming period without students in the building, particularly for districts with large populations of students open-enrolling in or out.. Among them were child care options for healthcare and emergency workers, as well as teachers and how children who utilize free and reduced-price lunch will receive food when schools are closed.

Wrenshall has a high percentage of students who open enroll into the district, while more than 50% of students living in Carlton open enroll to another district.

From Monday’s call with MDE, Belcastro believed parents who need child care or food would use the district they live in — not the district they attend — but Carman was less sure that would be the case.

There was also uncertainty about whether Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments will be suspended or canceled, what programs students could use for remote learning and even how long students will be learning from home.

Belcastro said she hoped students would be back in the building by May 1, but said she felt like that was a very optimistic scenario.


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Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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