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State to students: Stay home

Seniors lament end of normal school year


May 1, 2020

A host of senior students at area high schools sounded off the past week on the news that distance learning would continue into the end of the school year in Minnesota. It means there will be no activities at the schools. Just like that, the in-person spring rites are gone. No prom. No plays or concerts. No sports. No in-person graduation ceremony. Read the seniors' full thoughts on today's back page, as compiled by Pine Knot News writer Caleb Swanson, himself a senior at Cloquet High School.

The announcement by Minnesota governor Tim Walz that distance learning would be extended for the rest of the school year was a gut punch to many area students.

It hit seniors particularly hard.

Members of the Class of 2020 who were hoping they'd spend the last few weeks of school with their classmates will continue to learn from home, mostly online, and see the majority of their friends only through various social media platforms and video classroom meetings.

News that all spring high school sports and extracurricular activities would be canceled followed within hours of the Thursday, April 23 announcement, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Infections and deaths in Minnesota from the disease continue to climb, although stay-at-home orders and other measures have helped slow the spread of the disease, officials say.

"It's pretty crazy," said Cloquet high school principal Steve Battaglia. "Kids work their whole lives to be the senior pitcher, anchor on the 4x4 relay, lead in the spring play, and it's just over. It's not unique to just our seniors, I know, but it's all local when it gets to the feeling."

In addition to the schools, many local businesses, organizations and parents are coming together to do something extra for this year's senior class.

Since early April, many schools in Carlton County and across the state and country have turned the lights on at empty football stadiums for 20 minutes and 20 seconds to honor the Class of 2020 each Monday night. Yard signs are proliferating in Esko, Carlton, Cloquet and beyond. Carlton has photos of every senior on its website. Parents in Cloquet started a Facebook page just to feature their seniors and future plans, and Barnum is featuring students on the school Facebook page. There are too many efforts on social media to list them all.

Area schools are also getting creative to get people together yet keep them socially distanced. From 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 9, Cloquet will hold a "senior class drive-through" in the school parking lots. Parents, families and friends are encouraged to come and park in the senior or junior lots starting at 11 a.m. with decorated cars and signs to celebrate their senior with lots of noise ... while remaining with the vehicle to practice social distancing, of course. Seniors will drive through the parking lots, and pick up their caps and gowns, honor cords, medals of distinction, yearbooks and more. A large banner will be hung on the football fence along 22nd Street and families are invited to hang an 8x10 laminated photo of their senior along with it.

Meanwhile, there will be some kind of graduation ceremonies, school officials promise, but details are still scarce. Esko principal Greg Hexum said simply that seniors will finish school May 22, and participate in a "socially distanced" graduation ceremony at 7 p.m. May 29. Carlton's Gwen Carman said they're still figuring things out.

"We likely are doing some type of drive-up graduation," Wrenshall superintendent Kim Belcastro said. Seniors weren't interested in a parade. "We're still working out the details but we think it will either be on the football field or at the front entrance, but we have a lot of construction going on now too." That ceremony is set for 7 p.m. May 29.

The Cloquet senior class likely won't be this close together again as a group for a long time.

As for Cloquet, Battaglia said he hopes to have a better idea in a week, after getting more guidance from the state. Cloquet's graduation was originally scheduled for May 22.


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