K-2nd Graders Welcomed Back Into Duluth Schools — With Precautions

While reassuring parents the school is taking many precautions, officials say a good portion of students have been kept at home by some moms and dads. 

DULUTH, Minn.- On Monday, Kindergartners through 2nd Graders in the Duluth School District returned to their classrooms for the first time since November, after Minnesota Governor Tim Walz officially allowed elementary schools to reopen starting January 18th.

“I am truly elated to be back at school,” said Homecroft Elementary Principal Tom Cawcutt.

In Duluth, the rest of elementary schoolers Grades 3 to 5 will head back February 8th.

We reached out to Duluth Schools Superintendent John Magas about when middle and high schoolers are expected back. According to him, no plans yet.

“We continue to seek guidance from MDE [Minnesota Department of Education] and MDH [Minnesota Department of Health] on when they will allow us to return at the middle and high school levels,” Magas said.

School officials at Homecroft Elementary said they spent the last week working on safety precautions. “It’s been an interesting time throughout the pandemic,” Principal Cawcutt said.

Kids filed out of Homecroft in a staggered dismissal Monday, to ensure social distancing at the end of their first full day back in-person.

The principal says social distancing kids in and out of the classroom is one of the many changes they’ve made.

“Increased safety protocols with classrooms being as they say deep cleaned overnight,” he said, “to staff not only having to wear face masks, as we have always had, deploying face shields as well.”

“There’s also been some Plexiglas barriers that we put in classrooms, we’ve really tried to limit individual school supplies so that kids are using their own supplies V.S. more of a community type model,” said Cawcutt.

Even though he is reassuring parents the school is taking many precautions, he says a good portion of students have been kept at home by some moms and dads.

“I would say probably 10-15% stayed in distance learning,” the Principal said. “That’s not a hard statistic but out of 400 kids, I would say easily we had 40 kids. So probably 10%.”

Parents lined the parking lot to get their kids as they are walked one by one to their cars. They say while they are excited to send them back, it wasn’t an easy decision.

“They need that socialization but then it’s so scary because you think: are you sending them to school and they’re gonna get sick with COVID? So you have mixed emotions about it,” said Karen Fronden, picking up her granddaughter.

And according to Principal Cawcutt there was hesitation from teachers as well, with the slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout — the entire Duluth School District only got 32 vaccines so far.

“There’s mixed feelings about that,” said the Principal.

“Our teachers love our kids and they want to be there for them but at the same time, there’s always concern. There’s a lot of unknowns, there’s a lot of fear, there’s a lot of joy that comes to our return to learn,” he said. “But at the same time our staff wants to make sure that they are safe.”

And parents say they understand the pandemic has been hard on everyone at school and home. “It’s been very hard on our young kids and been very hard on our elderly people as well,” Fronden said.

So at the end of the first day back the principal of Homecroft asks for continued patience.

“This has been a stressful time and our families have needed to make some decisions about coming back or even if they were gonna stay in distance learning,” said Cawcutt, “and as things change we have to adjust to that and the stress that comes with that is wearing.”

“And so as we’ve returned we’re gonna do the very best we can,” he said.

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