Duluth Public Schools and Cook County Schools are preparing to bring back their middle and high school students into the classroom for the first time in nearly a year.

Duluth announced at the beginning of February it would bring back secondary students to the classroom in March for a limited hybrid model, but on Tuesday, Superintendent John Magas announced secondary school students would begin in-person, four-days-a week instruction starting March 29.

“We understand how challenging it can be when plans change within a short period of time, but we are excited about the possibilities that this brings,” Magas said. “We appreciate the patience and support of our families, staff and community as we continue planning to bring middle and high school students back into our buildings.”

Cook County Schools announced Monday it would be bringing its high school students back in a hybrid model starting March 9. Cook County middle schoolers are expected to start hybrid learning March 1. The district started the school year with distance learning for all students.

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Local COVID-19 numbers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-verified 14-day case rates per 10,000 residents around the Northland for Jan. 31 through Feb. 13 were:

  • 16.42 in Aitkin County.

  • 16.88 in Carlton County.

  • 3.77 in Cook County.

  • 21.68 in Itasca County.

  • 26.49 in Lake County.

  • 14.44 in St. Louis County.

  • 13.2 in the Duluth area.

  • 17.8 in Central/Southern St. Louis County.

  • 9.9 in Northern St. Louis County.

The 14-day case rates are used as guidance for school districts when choosing the right learning model for middle and high school students. Elementary students are allowed to return to in-person learning five days a week starting Jan. 18 regardless of these numbers.

According to Essentia Health’s COVID-19 Regional Projections dashboard, the county 14-day case rates per 10,000 residents as of Feb. 24 were:

  • 20.1 in Aitkin County.

  • 10.9 in Carlton County.

  • 3.7 in Cook County.

  • 23.9 in Itasca County.

  • 34.7 in Lake County.

  • 12 in St. Louis County.

COVID-19 cases in St. Louis County remained low in school-age students. Those ages 14 and under saw 18 new cases in the past week. Those ages 15-19 had seven new cases, the lowest number in a week since the beginning of the school year.

Statewide, COVID-19 cases over the past week were 158 for ages 4 and under; 248 for ages 5-9; 365 for ages 10-14; and 598 for ages 15-19.

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COVID-19 cases in schools

No Northland school buildings were added to or removed from the Minnesota Department of Health's outbreak list Thursday.

A school building is put on the list if it reports five or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in students or staff who were in a building while infectious during a two-week reporting period. The building is removed after 28 days of no new positive tests.

Grand Rapids High School, added Oct. 8, still remains on the outbreak list as well as Merritt Elementary in Mountain Iron, added Feb. 4, and Hermantown High School, added Feb. 11.

As of Thursday, 21 new school buildings were added to the list and 21 were removed for a total of 71 buildings remaining on the list.

From Feb. 14-20, there were 459 more positive COVID-19 cases in schools statewide, with 138 new cases among staff and 321 new cases among students. The state reported one more staff member was hospitalized. Four students were hospitalized last week, with one spending time in the ICU.

From Feb. 6-20, 338 school buildings reported one confirmed case of COVID-19, 152 reported two to four confirmed cases and 21 reported more than five. Statewide, 10 more school buildings reported at least one new case of COVID-19.