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Superintendent: CPS needs to see COVID-19 case rates continue to drop; school board to discuss return to class

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The Columbia Board of Education will hold a work session Thursday morning where Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said the board will continue to discuss a phased-in return to classrooms.

At the board of education meeting earlier in September, Stiepleman outlined a preliminary plan to bring some students back to class. School is happening online-only right now because of COVID-19 case rates in the district.

Under the plan groups of students would return to the classroom in four phases.

  • Phase one: Kindergarten and first grade
  • Phase two: Second and third grade
  • Phase three: Fourth and fifth grade
  • Phase four: Middle schools and high schools

Stiepleman said the district has been looking at how St. Louis and Kansas City area schools are phasing kids back into classrooms.

As of Tuesday evening, the district's data tracker showed 49.6 new cases per 10,000 people over the past 14 days. 

Stiepleman told ABC 17 News during a live interview Wednesday that it is a good sign that the district’s case metric is below 50. 

He said at the end of August and beginning of September the district wanted to see the rate below 50 for a couple of weeks to establish a trend before returning students to class. But at the last board meeting he said the board indicated that they wanted to keep pushing toward a hybrid model with a phase-in that would take place more quickly. 

“A phase-in would likely allow us to not have to wait as long,” Stiepleman said. “And at the same time, we need to see those case rates continue to drop.”

He also said the district needs to see the positivity rate continue to drop. Students and workers will have to continue taking extra precautions even if classrooms reopen, he said.

“Everything from hand washing, to social distancing, to good hygiene and contact tracing,” Stiepleman said. “All of those pieces really go into making sure that we can confidently come back and do it so that we are not back and forth.”

CPS Parent Tera Eckerle is hopeful CPS can change to the hybrid model.

“I think it’s great," Eckerle said. "Columbia is the only place in our city right here within 30 minutes away that does not have kids in class.”

She also said her family would benefit if CPS decided to switch to the hybrid model.

"I’m personally very happy about it but that’s because I work and I’m a single parent,” Eckerle said.

Eckerle said the phased in plan would work well because her son in elementary school would be able to return to classrooms sooner.

“Our elementary school, I can see the school from my house," Eckerle said. "So that would be perfect for me.”

Riane Cleveland

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