While public schools across Minnesota are still working out their plans for the 2020-21 school year after getting more direction from the Department of Education on Thursday, private schools in Duluth have already announced they will be holding in-person classes.

Private schools are not bound by state mandates. Marshall School announced plans for in-person school in early July. Montessori School of Duluth, Lakeview Christian Academy and Stella Maris Academy have also recently decided to hold in-person school this fall.

Montessori Head of School Michelle Gutsch said they are taking extra precautions and have a COVID-19 plan in place that was created with the help of county health officials. Extra precautions at Montessori School, which enrolls 16-month-olds through sixth grade, include sanitizing throughout the day, deep-cleaning the entire building every night and having a separate entry for elementary students.

Gutsch said children will not be required to wear masks and neither will the teachers and care providers that stay within one group.

Teaching assistant Maggie Campbell smiles behind a mask as a child she's carrying looks up at her Friday at Montessori School of Duluth. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Teaching assistant Maggie Campbell smiles behind a mask as a child she's carrying looks up at her Friday at Montessori School of Duluth. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“This is being done because it’s so important for language development and emotional recognition at this age and is recommended by the (Minnesota Department of Health),” Gutsch said. “We do have a couple of floating teachers who will be wearing masks.”

As an extra safety precaution, Gutsch said there will be a hand sanitizing station and temperature station at the elementary entrance.

Lakeview Christian Academy Head of School Aaron Wall said they have also implemented precautions to help combat COVID-19. One of those is requiring masks to be worn by staff and students with a few exemptions.

Lakeview Christian Academy, which includes preschool through 12th grade, will also have deep cleaning every night Monday through Friday and is even hoping to take precautions a step further as they are looking into getting plastic barriers for desks.

Lakeview Christian Academy Head of School Aaron Walls poses outside the school. (File / News Tribune)
Lakeview Christian Academy Head of School Aaron Walls poses outside the school. (File / News Tribune)

Wall said they are also offering a remote-learning option for families who need it. Because of their current enrollment and the size of their building, Wall said they are able to stay below the 50% capacity recommended by the Department of Health. Wall said there is still room for new families, but the school plans to cap enrollment at 50% for this year.

“Safety is our top priority, and we want to make sure that our students, families and staff are safe,” he said.

Stella Maris Academy Principal Julianne Blazevic, who is one of two principals and works mostly at the St. James campus, said they will be sending out safety protocols and learning options on Monday to current families. At that time, families will be able to choose from five-day in-person instruction or remote learning.

“On-site learning is flexible based on the needs of families throughout the year,” Blazevic said. “For instance, if somebody in their family gets COVID and they have to be off-site for 14 days, that student will be automatically switched to the remote platform for those 14 days, but will be able to return to on-site when cleared.”

Blazevic said Stella Maris has already been operating in cohorts, which they will continue to do as it is recommended by the Department of Health to do so if possible to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

All three schools have been in contact with county health officials regularly and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wall and Blazevic both said they’ve seen an uptick recently in interest from new families. All three still have openings.

Blazevic said they are giving their current families a chance to select their preferred method of learning first before opening it up to new families Aug. 10.

“We just want to make sure we're taking care of our current families first, and we also want to make sure those current families are in these classrooms before they're full because we have caps based on the space of our classrooms,” she said.