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Columbia Public Schools’ leader tells board phases are best for return to class under COVID-19

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Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said Thursday that bringing students back into the classroom in phases is the most practical way to return to school as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The Columbia Board of Education held a work session Thursday morning in part to discuss ways to get students back into classrooms for at least part of the week. Students have been learning all-online since school began Sept. 8, a decision based on COVID-19 case rates in the district.

The district's 14-day COVID-19 case tracker fell below 50 on Monday and has remained there. That's the threshold that could trigger a return to classrooms.

In the first phase of bringing students back, preschool through second grade would enter into hybrid learning, separating into two groups that meet twice a week.

Stiepleman said the key to getting all grades back in the classroom is keeping everyone in small groups, with staggered times, in stable groups. But not all the board members agreed.

Board member Della Streaty-Wilhoit asked why CPS cannot place all age groups into hybrid learning right away now that the 14-day rate has declined.

"Why are we wanting to do phases? If we are trying to get our students back in the classroom going through phases is not helpful. Why can't we offer the hybrid learning for everyone?" Streaty-Wilhoit said.

Stiepleman said the goal is to get all students back into the classroom in a way that is permanent. He doesn't want CPS to jump into hybrid learning, see a spike in the 14-day rate and be forced to move back to virtual lessons only.

Streaty-Wilhoit proposed putting pre-kindergarten through fifth grade in a hybrid learning model, but several teachers and Stiepleman said that would be a "high hurdle."

"If we can bring back pre-K through five as phase one before bringing middle school and high school back we will look into doing that," he said. "It all depends on if trends are consistent."

The board discussed a plan that prioritizes students with special needs and would allow them to come back to school four days a week in-person.

The board plans to discuss hybrid learning further in October. No decision was made Thursday.

Columbia / Coronavirus / Education / K-12 education / News / Top Stories

Zola Crowder


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