Some Duluth Parents Enrolling Children in Private Schools for More In-Person Learning

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that ISD 709 middle and high school students are on the full distance learning plan for the first quarter of the 2020-2021 academic school year. Middle and high school students were originally going to be on a hybrid plan.

DULUTH, Minn. — Some parents in Duluth are enrolling their children in private schools that provide more in-person teaching this fall as the city’s public school system begins its hybrid learning plan that has an emphasis on distance learning.

One of those parents is Dan Dlouhy, who lives in Duluth and works as a carpenter with his family’s business. Working from home has never been an option for him, as his job is always bringing him to other people’s houses. He shares several children with his ex-wife who works in retail, another job where it’s not possible to work from home.

When everything shut down back in March, Dlouhy’s children, who were enrolled in the Duluth Public School District at the time, started learning from home. Private schools in the area also started up distance learning plans.

According to both Dan and his kids, distance learning didn’t go so well.

“At first it was really kind of difficult for the kids to figure out what to do and it was just like an hour or so a day,” Dan Dlouhy said. “I mean like for instance one of their science projects was just to sit there and listen to the noises in the room and write down what they were, and then that was it for the day.”

His son Reagan, who is going into 9th grade this year, agreed.

“It was hard to do that at first because I didn’t have anyone really teaching me anything,” Reagan Dlouhy said.

“It was really hard to learn from the computer,” Dimitri Dlouhy, who’s going into 4th grade, said. “It was difficult for our mom.”

Dan decided to enroll four of his children into Duluth private school Lakeview Christian Academy this fall.

“I didn’t want to have to do it, it’s a financial burden for me, but my kids’ education is important and I just didn’t feel like they could learn by themselves at home,” he said.

Some private schools in the Northland that are offering almost all in-person learning during the pandemic are seeing enrollment numbers rise.

That’s been the case for the Marshall School in Duluth as it offers mostly in-person learning.

“We certainly saw a spike in enrollment,” Amanda Boulier, the enrollment manager for the Marshall School, said. “Last year we had about 100 applicants total. This year we had 150. We have about 95 new students at Marshall this year, whereas last year we had around 50 to 55. So certainly a big jump there, and you know I think certainly the pandemic has played a part in that.”

Part of the larger conversation about sending kids back to school in the midst of the pandemic is about the social skills and mental health benefits children can absorb from in-person learning, which they could miss out on while learning from home.

“It’s going to be nice because we can actually meet new friends and play with them,” Dimitri Dlouhy said, as he begins fourth grade at LCA for in-person learning.

In the Duluth school district, elementary students can go to school two days a week this fall beginning on Monday. Middle and high school students will be on the distance learning plan full-time for the first quarter of the school year.

With a larger student body than private schools in the area, ISD 709 feels that limiting in-person time is the best way to prevent the virus from spreading among children, faculty, and community members.

All Duluth public schools and most private schools in the city will require students to wear masks, with other safety and cleaning protocols in place.

Homecroft Elementary School principal Tom Cawcutt said the district knows last spring was challenging for students and their parents, as the world adjusted to a new unexpected reality.

“We get to go back to, in some semblance, how we do school,” Cawcutt said. “And there are different parameters for safety and there’s precautions and there’s lots of hurdles that we’ve had to get over in order to come to this return to learn in a hybrid capacity, but that doesn’t diminish the care and concern and the heartfelt excitement we have for our kids coming back.”

Now with a summer of planning complete, he expects the school district will have a better experience this fall.

“There are drastic changes everywhere, from safety protocols, to educational protocols with regards to how we’re going to deliver education,” Cawcutt said. “So there really hasn’t been any area, whether it’s throughout the district, or in individual schools, that hasn’t been impacted through change over the past six months.”

The official enrollment numbers for ISD 709 won’t be in until October, so right now it’s unclear if more families have chosen to leave and find more in-person learning for their children, like Dan Dlouhy did.

For the students who begin the school district’s hybrid plan on Monday, one thing is clear: they’ve been missed.

“We are sincerely excited about bringing kids back to the building, it’s been 6 months,” Cawcutt said, becoming emotional. “…the emotion is right there because the reason that we’re here is kids. And having them come back, we’re ready.”

Cawcutt added that parents who need child care on distance learning days should contact the school district, which may be able to help them on a case-by-case basis.

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