Students, Covid back at school
April 23, 2021
Esko superintendent Aaron Fischer said people are "overwhelmingly glad" to be back in in-person classes at school, following an extended period of distance- and hybrid learning.
Fischer shared a story about a possible snow day several weeks ago, when there was a forecast for inclement weather.
"In past years the students would lobby me to close school anytime the forecast called for snow, but not this year," he said. "The students lobbied me to stay open."
The return to school has come with challenges, not surprisingly. Students and staff must still comply with pandemic protocols, including wearing masks and following social distancing recommendations. Sports are happening, but Carlton County has at least two teams in quarantine, including the Carlton girls softball team and the Wrenshall boys baseball team. And Covid breakouts at some of the smaller schools have seen entire grades quarantined.
"Unfortunately, the district has had an 'outbreak' in Covid-19 cases the last few weeks with eight confirmed cases," said Wrenshall superintendent Kim Belcastro. "Therefore, grades 4 and 9 have been out on quarantine."
In nearby Carlton, the seventh grade was quarantined due to Covid. The girls softball team is quarantined through April 28 and the girls basketball team season ended before playoffs because of Covid exposure and the need to quarantine.
Minnesota Department of Health numbers reflect the higher infection rates. Over the first two weeks of March, the 14-day case rate per 10,000 people - used as a guideline for schools - was 5.91 in Carlton County. The most recent report last Thursday, April 15, showed a case rate of 31.51.
By age group statewide, the largest number of positive Covid cases are in the younger age groups, with 54,646 cases reported so far for ages 20-24, 49,870 for ages 25-29, and 45,088 for ages 15-19.
While nearly all teachers and staff have been vaccinated if they wanted to be, students are another story. Consequently, districts may not face the same teacher shortages they did in the fall, but students are still more vulnerable as those ages 16 and older only recently became eligible for Covid shots.
Cloquet school nurse Sarah Ellena emailed an advisory note to school district families highlighting locations and clinics where the Pfizer vaccine is available, because it is the only vaccine that's been approved so far for ages 16-17. "With the younger population of Covid-19 cases on the rise, it is important for 16-to-17-year-old students to consider being vaccinated," she said.
Providers offering the Pfizer vaccine include Thrifty White Pharmacy in Cloquet and Moose Lake, and Essentia Health in Moose Lake. The Cromwell Medical Clinic is willing to request the Pfizer vaccine if there is a large demand from the 16-to-17-year-old population.
Cloquet Memorial Hospital will be hosting a vaccine clinic specifically targeting 16- and 17-year-olds 3-6 p.m. Wednesday, April 28. Students/families can contact CMH to make an appointment by calling 218-879-4641 or online at https://cloquethospital.com/covid-vaccine.
Rites of spring
While the 2020 graduates missed most of the usual spring activities from sports to prom, the Class of 2021 will get to enjoy most of the usual rites of spring, but with changes due to Covid.
Superintendent Fischer said Esko is planning for an outdoor prom this year.
"This sounds great as long as the weather cooperates," he said. "Again, we have all learned to be flexible. We know that it is these unique experiences that make a senior year memorable and will do what we can do to make it happen for our students, but no guarantees."
Most of the area districts are planning some kind of prom and either outdoor or indoor graduation ceremonies. Here's a quick update on those plans, which all administrators stressed could be changed if Covid case levels rise even more dramatically:
Graduation will be in-person on May 28 with limited seating. Each graduate will be allowed five guests. Possible prom plans for May 8 are under discussion, according to principal Ben Midge, who said seniors have been very helpful in guiding decisions this year, and show great respect for Covid protocols. They told him they'd much rather have a somewhat normal graduation ceremony, and ditch prom if it keeps the class healthy.
Cloquet High School plans are to hold both prom and graduation outside, according to CHS principal Steve Battaglia. Prom will be in the school parking lot with large tents "to help facilitate air flow," Battaglia said. Graduation will be on the football field. May 28 is the scheduled graduation date with June 4 as the backup date.
According to superintendent Nathan Libbon, Cromwell-Wright remains open and in-person as they have been for all but two weeks this year. The Cardinals are planning to have prom May 1, and graduation for their 17 seniors is still being planned.
As mentioned above, Esko is planning for an outdoor prom. The Eskomos are planning for a traditional graduation in the gymnasium, but will monitor Covid numbers to determine the best setting.
"If needed we will look at offering a drive-up ceremony or an outdoor graduation," Fischer said. "We went to a drive-up ceremony last year and our staff and community really stepped up to make it a unique and great experience for our students. Actually, I received more positive feedback from last year's graduation than any previous year."
South Ridge principal Andrew Bernard reports that the rural St. Louis County school has been in-person all year, with the exception of the week before and after Christmas break. "We are currently not planning for a prom, however we are discussing having a grand march for students and parents to come and take pictures. We are looking at having graduation in our gymnasium but limiting each student to a certain number of guests, to comply with social distancing regulations," Bernard said.
Wrenshall is having prom on May 1 onsite with a grand march and an onsite catered meal, according to superintendent Belcastro. There will not be a dance.
The Wrenshall High School Graduation is set for 4 p.m. May 28, outside. The school gym will be under construction.