COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
As the Columbia Board of Education discussed the idea of returning to the classroom amid the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and teachers have different opinions about the issue.
The president of the Columbia Missouri National Teacher Association Kathy Steinhoff said Monday night felt like an "ominous meeting" in front of the board, saying this issue has divided the community.
"It feels as though the different opinions in the community is starting to create factions, lumping us together and pitting us against each other... teachers versus parents versus school board," Steinhoff said. "This isn't good for us."
Steinhoff said the union's standpoint has always been following the data, and believes the high number of cases in the boundaries of the district should keep students virtual.
CPS officials use several indicators to inform the decision of whether to return to classes. Among them is the number of cases per 10,000 people in the district's boundaries over the last two weeks. That number is at 82.4 as of Monday. The district pegged 50 as a key level before the school year started, saying a rate higher than 50 suggests having classes online-only.
"I am not dismissing the cost of being virtual, we know virtual learning is not ideal and we are keenly aware that our students and our families, our community and our employees are facing other critical and other unintended consequences of our district being virtual," Steinhoff said.
The co-president of the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association Ariel Schwarting also spoke to the board, presenting data that shows a split in elementary school teacher's comfort in coming back to the classroom.
"At the secondary level, it's a little bit less comfort level, but that all changes once people have access to the vaccine and they can feel more confident in return," Schwarting said.
According to their survey, which 268 member teachers took, 73 percent of teachers who said they were not comfortable coming back to the classroom said they would feel comfortable once they have the vaccine.
One Columbia Public Schools teacher Shawn Beatty came to the board meeting and told ABC17 News he will be comfortable going back in person once the vaccine is widely available.
"That's what I'm waiting for, we'll get there, it's so close, you can see it, it's in the arms of some people in the city," Beatty said. "Let's get that rolled out, let's pressure the state to get that done."
He said while this year was hard on teachers, students and parents, there are a lot of new skills that were learned because of the pandemic.
Several parents showed up to the board meeting to express their opinions about coming back to the classroom.
One parent Marisa Hagrer supports students going back into the classroom, saying it has been long enough and believes students are falling behind.
"I feel like kids have been thrown on the sword," "All of Columbia is open, we can take our kids to restaurants... we can take our kids bowling, we can take them to the arcade, restaurants are open, people are working, schools the only thing that is closed at this point."
Another parent Dr. Lara Wakefield also strongly supported getting students back in-seat, saying the board has been hypocritically by allowing sports and other activities to continue.
"Why can't the AP Chemistry student actually have a lab? Those are out future doctors, people who may actually find a cure for this virus, and they don't even get to have their learning experiences," Wakefield said.