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Columbia Public Schools

Columbia Public Schools secondary students could get date for return to classrooms next month


Columbia's public middle and high school students could learn next month when they'll return to classrooms.

The Columbia Board of Education discussed reopening middle schools and high schools during a work session Thursday. Those students have been learning online-only since March, when schools were closed because of COVID-19.

Board President Helen Wade said members will make a decision to either remain online or switch middle and high schools to in-person learning at the board's meeting on Nov. 9.

Wade said the board will also set a date on Nov. 9 for the return to either in-person or the continuation of virtual learning.

Columbia Public Schools elementary students went back into classrooms this week, with about a quarter of them choosing to continue class online-only. The board decided to let elementary students return and hold off on older kids going back to classes, citing the challenges presented by switching classes.

The board said if middle and high school students return in-person, social distancing will not be an option.

"We have to remember we are still in a pandemic, what's gotten lost we are saying is the most important piece, social distancing, we are saying we can't do that," board member Chris Horn said.

He said virtual learning is the safest and most consistent option for students at this time.

Other board members discussed a plan under which middle school would return in-person before the new year, four days a week, while high school would also return four days a week but with a hybrid backup plan in place.

Board member Blake Willoughby said the community has to also ask local colleges and universities to move online in order to get younger students back in-person.

"If we are wanting to see our kids in school you have to push colleges and universities to move online, a majority of their classes are online anyway," he said.

Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said the administration will recommend a date to return, if the board decides to transition middle and high schools to in-person learning.

Watch playback of the meeting in the media player below.

Stiepleman joined ABC 17 News This Morning on Monday to talk about the return of students to elementary schools.

The board of education initially discussed reopening middle schools on Nov. 15 and high schools on Jan. 19 but the plan sidelined at the board's most recent meeting.

The board also went over two nutritional services grants and an addition to Russell Boulevard Elementary Thursday morning.

Stiepleman also announced at Thursday's special board meeting that he is retiring at the end of June.

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Zola Crowder

Matt Ragsdale

Matt Ragsdale is a broadcast and digital producer at ABC 17 News.


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