Pequot Lakes: School district prepares for unusual year

Barriers and partitions may be commonplace within the Pequot Lakes School District in the upcoming year. Teachers will all be given Plexiglas partitions for their workspace. Dan Determan / Echo Journal

Preparations are well underway as the Pequot Lakes School District awaits the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 8. While administrators believe all is going well, a number of factors may lead to some confusion, not the least of which is the changes to the year made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The issues are somewhat compounded by the fact that the district was in the middle of overhauling a number of systems before the health crisis reached Minnesota.

“Things are going as expected, which means there is a flurry of activity on pretty much all fronts, and that flurry is for more reasons than just the pandemic,” Superintendent Chris Lindholm said. “Long before COVID-19, our district was in the middle of a transition to a new student information system, and a new learning management system, and the new food service system … so we've been working fast and furious to make sure all of those things are working correctly.”

Lindholm said students and families should expect a hiccup or two with these systems, but he believed they are “95% there.”

Due to the number of COVID-19 cases in the area, the district will begin the year in a “hybrid” learning model, which will see older students split their time between in-person and distance learning.


Because of this setup, students and families have been given the option to receive their education entirely via distance learning. Lindholm said roughly 20% of Pequot Lakes students have signed up for this option.

“I'm not surprised that 20% of our families opted for distance learning, knowing that we have a fair number of students with compromised health,” Lindholm said. “I fully expected that somewhere around 15 to 20% of our students would have had the need for distance learning, and a legitimate need.”

Elementary students - along with fifth- and sixth-graders - will have in-person learning five days per week, but will do so in a homeroom model that will see 15 to 20 students in a “learning pod.” Students will not deviate from these groups during the school day.

Large-room classes like art are being done differently as well, with art teachers going to the learning pod rooms rather than having more than a dozen students moving to a new location.

Stairways in Eagle View Elementary have been designated "up" or "down" and marked accordingly better socially distance in the coming school year. Dan Determan / Echo Journal

Should the learning model change due to an increase in local COVID-19 cases, these pods could be split into small groups.

Students in grades 7-12 will operate in a hybrid model, coming to school for regular in-person learning twice per week and working from home twice per week. Staggering the attendance of the students allows them to spread out more within the building and allow for greater social distancing.


Though their in-person school day will end at 1:50 p.m., high school students will have one hour of distance learning built into their schedule, which should be how courses like physical education are taught.

Fridays for these older grades are called “Flex Fridays,” which will have more fluid schedules allowing students in need to meet with teachers, as well as conduct more of their elective courses.

“They are designed for our staff to be able to bring in students that need more help, intervention or enrichment,” Lindholm said. “In addition to that, it is for our staff to be able to creatively provide students with some of their elective and hands-on lab experiences. We are calling it ‘flex’ on purpose. It will flex and change, and students will be given plenty of lead time for that.

“Some students really need more intervention and direct instruction, and more support to be successful when they are learning from a distance. We feel that building one day a week in there to really target those kids that are struggling and are falling behind is a safety valve for a lot of the kids that were not successful (in the spring)," he said.

While many families throughout the state are choosing to home-school their children or enroll them in a dedicated online program, very few Pequot Lakes families have done so. In fact, enrollment is up by nearly 30 students over the previous school year.

“I believe a lot of that is because of the quality of the work that our leadership teams have done in planning for a robust system for fall,” Lindholm said.

One aspect of this unusual school year that may serve as a bit of a silver lining, according to the superintendent, is the use of an “adaptive scheduler” at the high school level. This scheduler should allow students to sign up for learning opportunities somewhat catered to their needs.

“We have been on the path toward personalized learning for five or six years, and we are taking advantage of this situation to take a great leap forward as we try to be innovative and really personalize learning for students,” Lindholm said. “That is probably the coolest thing - the most unique thing - that has come out of this whole thing.”


Personal protective equipment should be found nearly everywhere, including in the band room, where bell covers and other specialized equipment has been purchased to reduce saliva output during band class.

One other major change comes before and after the school day. With many families “kindly and willingly” offering to drop off and pick up their children to keep numbers low on buses, traffic may be an issue around the school buildings. To mitigate some issues, Crow Wing County has lowered the speed limit outside of Eagle View Elementary School from 40 mph to 30 mph, while Lindholm simply requests patience from everyone involved.

“We are asking parents to just be very patient - to use all three rows to line up cars in the parking lot, to pull up close to the car in front of you so that you're not wasting half a car length. We need to stack as many cars in that lot as possible and keep them off of Highway 11. When they stack up on the highway, that is when it gets dangerous,” he said.

Classes begin in the district on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at

Dan Determan has been a reporter for the Echo Journal since 2014, primarily covering sports at Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus
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