COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Columbia Public Schools canceled several days of classes in January and added two early release days in an effort to relieve pressure put on educators during the current surge of new COVID-19 cases.
Columbia Public Schools announced Friday it will not be in session for students on Jan. 21, 24 and 25. The school district also added two early release days on Feb. 9 and March 9. In an email to families, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Brian Yearwood said these will all become teacher workdays. The Columbia Board of Education will vote on these changes on Jan. 20.
Columbia Public Schools spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said in an email the district hopes these changes will take pressure off teachers and educators as they deal with a surge of new COVID cases.
"The changes allow for relief for our schools and staff as we experience the expected Omicron surge," Baumstark said.
On Friday, the Columbia Public Schools dashboard reported 351 students have active coronavirus cases and 94 staff members have active infections. Yearwood said about 20% of students have been absent this week. The substitute fill rate this week has only about 45% of its teacher absences.
Noelle Gilzow, Columbia Public Schools teacher and president of the Columbia Missouri National Teachers Association (CMNEA), told ABC 17 the extra workdays will allow teachers and students a much-needed mental health break while the omicron variant scourages through schools.
"That break I think is doing a good thing for the morale, which has taken a huge hit," Gilzow said. "Not just in the last couple of weeks, but you know, just this whole pandemic thing overall, has been a huge hit to the teachers in the district."
However, some parents expressed to ABC 17 the unexpected canceled class days are putting strain on them to find childcare. Columbia Public Schools parent Trisha Reed Patchett called the district's plan "ridiculous."
"Since there is no longer any COVID relief money, if I can’t find childcare, I have to use my earned time off to stay home with [my child]," Patchett said.
Gilzow said the district most likely scheduled the days off for two weeks from now to give parents time to find childcare.
"[Childcare] is a serious concern that we need to take into consideration but I do think that's also why we're not like just taking off next week," Gilzow said. "I'm hoping there's some way that the district can also support families where it's less possible to have a parent stay at home with their kids."
Columbia Public Schools parent Mandi Hamlin told ABC 17 she's concerned about her students falling behind.
"Our kids have missed enough because of this district's absurd self-implemented rules," Hamlin said.
However, Gilzow said that in school teachers and students are feeling the stress from having to adjust every day to large amounts of absences.
"I think we have to realize that we're not going to get as much accomplished this school year, as we would have three years ago, and I think we're gonna have to be okay with that," Gilzow said. "Because what's more important for not only the staff but also our students is their mental health."
A group of nine high school students has organized to ask for masks to be required in schools and other protections for students and teachers. Rock Bridge student Katherine Cox-Littrell said she and the other eight student organizers are happy to see the administration putting forth the effort to reduce the spread of COVID.
"We're hoping that these relief days, combined with the extended mask mandate we are working for will greatly reduce the number of COVID cases seen in CPS students and staff," Cox-Littrell said.