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Columbia Public Schools start late for third time in two weeks

Icy weather Monday had many Mid-Missouri schools cancel classes or delay start times.

After adopting the “late start” policy in November, Columbia Public Schools had their third late start in the last two weeks because of weather.

The city’s school board discussed the new policy Monday night at its scheduled meeting. Superintendent Dr. Peter Stiepleman told the board the district may have closed school any of the three days it delayed the start. Last year, the district canceled school twice due to cold weather.

“It pushed us closer to summer school,” Stiepleman said. “[Students] also lost consistency of nutrition. With nearly fifty percent of our students participating in free lunch, we know how important school is for them. They count on us.”

Many viewers reached out to ABC 17 saying this can be hard on parents who are not able to rearrange their work schedules to get their child to class two hours late.

Officials said they don’t allow parents to drop their children off early, but they realize the delay can be a no-win situation.

“There’s no way whether we cancel a full day or delay start that we’re going to make everybody happy, but we are making the decision based on the safety and in the best interest of our students,” said CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark.

“Child care facilities, they have plans for canceled days, but they don’t have plans, necessarily, for delayed starts,” Dr. Stiepleman said. “So it’s putting some of our families at a disadvantage.”

Dr. Stiepleman showed the board attendance numbers at the high school, middle and elementary levels for last week. The district used the late start times on Wednesday and Thursday. Each level had more than ten percent of its students absent on Wednesday, with the high school level featuring a 15-percent absence rate.

However, on Thursday, each level’s attendance improved by five percent, with the elementary level closest to the week’s normal attendance.

One teacher praised the district’s use of the policy, as it kept students from making up lost days at the end of the school year, and made the trip to school safer.

“You’re never going to make everybody happy,” Alpha Hart Lewis teacher Susan McClintic said, “but I am thrilled to report that the cars in the ditch did not have children in them this morning outside my house.”

Dr. Stiepleman explained to the board the district calls for a late start due to cold weather typically when temperatures fall below five degrees and winds blow more than 20 miles per hour.

Other nearby school districts are also using the late start option, such as Fayette and Centralia.

(Editor’s note, 1/13, 12:49 a.m.: This story updates a previous story regarding Columbia Public School’s late start on Monday morning.)

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