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Cloquet schools go distance, add 'asynchronous' day

 

November 13, 2020

Jana Peterson

The halls were empty at Cloquet High School this week as students have moved to fulltime distance learning after a spike in Covid-19 cases in the region. Sports activities, for now, are still allowed.

With the numbers of positive Covid-19 cases climbing rapidly, students in grades 7-12 started distance learning Tuesday and grades K-6 will make the switch next Monday, despite the fact that last week's numbers didn't meet the state benchmark for changing elementary school students to distance learning, a last resort.

Superintendent Michael Cary told school board members he doesn't expect the schools to change back to hybrid or in-person learning anytime soon at Monday's meeting.

"The numbers are rapidly going in a very wrong direction, so it will probably be a while," Cary said, pointing out that the 14-day Covid-19 case rate number jumped to 38.55 for Carlton County last Thursday, from 23.07 the week before. "Two weeks ago we were around the 19-20 mark and feeling pretty good. Then in one week it flipped on a dime."

Another reason for going to distance learning was staffing shortages, with lots of people out on quarantine for 14 days after being exposed to someone who later tested positive, Cary said.

"We were close to having to shut down buildings because we couldn't staff them," he said.

Because the 14-day Covid numbers from the state are 10 days old, Cary said they know in advance when things are going to get better or worse, because other state reports are more timely.

"We already had a good idea of what was happening so we knew we needed to take action," Cary said. "When the community sees the numbers this week and the next, they will understand." (The state releases the 14-day rate every Thursday; find the latest report at http://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/stats/wschool.pdf.)

Because they aren't seeing person-to-person spread in school or sports programs, Cary said sports will continue for now.

"It's easy to shut down a sport for a week or two without having a drastic effect on families," he said, explaining that the district does not want to change learning models as quickly, so they can give families plenty of notice that change is coming.

Also on Monday, school board members approved implementing one "asynchronous" day of learning per week. That means rather than students logging into classes online just like they were sitting there in person - which is synchronous learning - students will receive assignments, but teachers won't lead any classes that day and kids can work at their own pace and time. Teachers will be available for help, make-up work, reteaching, or any other student needs, CHS principal Steve Battaglia explained. In addition, on asynchronous learning days, teachers will focus on outreach to students who are struggling.

During distance learning, the asynchronous day is Wednesday; if and when the schools go back to hybrid learning, it will switch to Friday.

Battaglia said he hopes that the change will help teachers reach students who have been falling behind this semester.

"We are already seeing an uptick in failure rates. Across the region it's about 30 percent [higher than normal]," he told board members.

Battaglia told school board members that Cloquet is the only 7AA school that has been doing all synchronous learning, a change from last spring when the distance learning was all asynchronous. He noted that 90 percent of teaching staff support the move.

"It will allow the kids to catch a breath, and give teachers time to answer questions," assistant principal Tim Prosen said, adding that the kids and teachers will still be putting in a full day's work. "It's a problem, trying to get kids back up to speed."

Cary said he hoped community members will work to take Covid precautions and slow the spread of the disease so that kids can return to school.

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Distance learning spreads in county

Other Carlton County schools already in distance learning or soon to transition include Esko K-12 (through at least Dec. 4), Barnum (K-12 through at least Nov. 27), Moose Lake (grades 3-12 through at least Dec. 4), Carlton (grades 9-12) and Wrenshall (grades 1-12).

The Fond du Lac Ojibwe School has been in distance learning the whole school year.

According to a Nov. 11 update on the school website, Cromwell-Wright schools will remain in hybrid learning for K-12 because community numbers remain low.

 
 

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