Ask teachers about the 2020-21 school year and they'll tell you it was a year unlike any other: virtual learning, struggles with COVID protocols, fears of spreading a mysterious new virus and uncertainty around in-person learning.
At Roseau Community School, serving preschoolers through 12th-graders just 11 miles from the Canadian border, the last day of classes on Thursday brought one moment that might top them all.
Shortly before 10 a.m., as students celebrated the end of the year in classrooms and hallways, staffers heard a loud bang on the window of the nurse's office.
"They hear this thud, and they're like, 'Geez, that was loud,' " said Superintendent Tom Jerome. "They look out the window and see a deer outside, trying to get regrouped."
The doe had smashed its head against the window, trying to get into the building. A more sensible deer might have taken its lumps and slinked off into the woods to lick its wounds and wounded ego. But since it's been the craziest year in recent memory, this deer decided, "Why not? Let's give it another go."
The second time was the charm, and the deer smashed through. It jumped directly over a student who was lying on a cot under the window. (The student fared well in the brief encounter, escaping with only minor cuts.)
Staffers jumped into action. Several ran out into the hallway to make sure it was clear of students. The nightmare scenario would have been a 4-year-old walking around the corner just as the doe ran out of the nurse's office. Remarkably, even though the nurse's office is in a main thoroughfare of the school, no students were about.
In retrospect, the security video of the deer following the staffers out of the nurse's office is comical. The deer slipped twice on the ground, sat for a couple of seconds and stared ahead. Then it awkwardly stood and headed toward the front door.
The deer pushed through the first set of doors on its own, then staffers opened the second set so the deer could head back into the great outdoors.
The superintendent believes the deer was relatively unharmed.
But in that moment, things could have taken a scary turn.
"It's just bizarre to picture a deer in any other setting than its native setting," said Jerome, who is a deer hunter. "You see it trying to walk down the hallway, and straight across from the deer is the elementary office. The deer heads north. That deer could then take a left or right turn. It takes a left, and it goes down a long, carpeted hallway of preschool to third-grade students. There's lots of room on that carpeted hallway. Takes a right and it heads to the fourth- through sixth-grade wing. There were lots of opportunities where things could have gone really wrong.
"I'm really thankful our staff reacted the way they did, and so quickly, so no student got in the path of the deer," Jerome said.
For educators and students in Roseau, this wild and unprecedented school year could not have ended in a more fitting way.
"School nurses everywhere can relate to the madness of this school year," Jerome said. "Just when you thought this year could not become more challenging, more interesting, something like this happens. A deer jumps in the window. There's been a lot of things thrown at educators, thrown at administrators, at support staff. Why not on the last day of school throw us one more challenge?
"Could I confidently say it's the strangest thing that happened this year?" Jerome wondered. He paused, then answered his own question: "I don't know. But it's definitely one of a kind."
Reid Forgrave • 612-673-4647