As COVID-19 cases fall, Wrenshall officials start planning to get students back to school

On a call with Carlton County public health officials Wednesday, Dec. 9, Wrenshall Superintendent Kim Belcastro said local school superintendents were asked not to make any learning model changes until after the first of the year.

The current COVID-19 case rates last remained high with Carlton County at 188 and 150 in St. Louis County, Belcastro said during the school board’s committee of the whole meeting later Wednesday. Carlton County’s case rate was projected to be around 170 next week, as officials continue to track the spread of the virus.

“There were three public health nurses that were on the call today, and they were cautiously telling us that it’s possible this has peaked,” Belcastro told the school board.

Despite the positive movement in the number of cases in the county, Belcastro said superintendents were asked not to make any adjustments to learning models before their next call Jan. 4.

The public health officials were nervous about the upcoming holidays, and said that while cases in the county seem to be plateauing now, community transmission is still high, Belcastro said.

Wrenshall students have been in a distance learning model for several weeks, but some students have not been engaging with teachers very well.

“Teachers are working extremely hard and doing the very best they can,” Belcastro said. “But I still feel confident that we have about 10% of our students that aren’t doing everything they need to be doing to be able to be even signing on or being a part of things.”

Wrenshall teachers and administrators began having conferences to address the issue, and their hope is to bring some students back in very small groups as soon as possible after Jan. 4.

Board member Matthew Laveau said he supported the idea as long as the groups of students were small and isolated.

“If there is an incident, you’re not affecting a bunch of people and are just being as safe as possible,” he said. “There’s some groups of students that aren’t going to get the education they need unless they have that face-to-face contact.”

John Peterson, a special education teacher at Wrenshall, said he met with the other special education teachers, and they agreed they wanted to bring their students back as soon as possible.

“Everyone else really does want to bring the students back as soon as we can,” Peterson said. “The one common thread I did hear from all of them is that we would like to possibly wait until the start of like second semester — just wait a week or two after that Christmas break — to see what the numbers are like after the break, if that makes sense, just to see if they jump or not.”

Belcastro, Wrenshall Board Chair Michelle Blanchard and Education Wrenshall President Nichole Rowland planned to meet Thursday, Dec. 10, to discuss a plan to transition students back into the building incrementally.

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