COLUMBIA Mo. (KMIZ)
The Columbia Board of Education on Monday voted to begin classes Sept. 8 fully online amid fast-rising COVID-19 cases after more than three hours of debate and public comment.
The motion to accept Supt. Peter Stiepleman's recommendation and begin school without having students in classrooms passed on a 6-1 vote. Only Blake Willoughby voted against the notion.
Stiepleman recommended the all-online method after a COVID-19 case rate tracked by CPS surpassed the level at which all-online education is suggested.
That threshold is 50 COVID-19 cases over 14 days per 10,000 people in the district. That number was at 71.5 on Monday.
Watch a replay of the meeting below.
However, the board made it clear that they plan to revisit the situation frequently. Stiepleman said the board has meetings already scheduled for Sept. 14 and Sept. 24. Board member Helen Wade said special meetings can also be used.
For now students will attend online classes via video conference from home or somewhere they have access to internet.
This method will allow teachers to contact students through email or Zoom, a popular video meeting service.
Teachers may send out packets or assignments through email and have students do homework remotely.
This could be a problem for families without internet or access to a computer. However, CPS has internet options for families without access.
Stiepleman in making his case asked the board and community for grace amid an unprecedented situation.
“Every school district in this nation is going to stumble because we’ve never done this before,” Stiepleman said.
Board members held a long discussion over the proposal, discussing in detail multiple aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Boone County and the effects of having schools closed on working parents and vulnerable children.
The president of the board Helen Wade said while she wants to see students in classrooms as soon as possible, she couldn't justify opening up schools with the current state of the city.
"My god, if we could find some sort of data that says, 'lets go back tomorrow,' or 'let's go back on September 8th because that's responsible,' I would love to find that data," Wade said. "And trust me I have looked for that data and I can't find it."
Willoughby, who voted against the change, said he doens't think CPS going back in session will have a big impact on the numbers, pointing to college aged people.
In the end, board member Della Streaty-Wilhoit said the board must make a decision so that parents and guardians can know one way or the other how the year will begin.
She said the board and administrators should not give families false hope nor proceed to quickly.
“This is the best that we can do with the facts that we have. Period," Streaty-Wilhoit said. "And this is new -- nobody has ever been through it before.”
Stiepleman recommended the entirely-online start amid a large rise in cases in Boone County over recent week. County health officials said last week that the county recorded a 44.6 percent positivity rate for the week that ended Thursday. The number is the percentage of people tested for COVID-19 who get a positive result.
Many of those new case are in the college-age range -- people ages 18-22.
Columbia/Boone County health director Stephanie Browning said hospitalizations for COVID-19 have also increased. That number hit a record last week and has not receded.
CPS had been preparing for a "hybrid model" that would hold some classes in person and some classes online. Students under this model would attend school in-person two days a week and three days a week online with options for district-wide special education classrooms to attend more frequently.
The board's decision Monday will keep students out of the classroom through the month of September. A decision on what happens afterward will come at a later date.