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Columbia Board of Education votes to push back elementary students’ return to in-person learning on Jan. 19

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The Columbia Board of Education voted to move back return to in-person classes to Jan. 19. It was originally set for Jan. 11.

It passed in a 6 to 1 vote, with the dissenting vote coming from Teresa Maledy.

The board asked before the vote if they should wait to see what the actual rate is next year, but the idea was the board meets on Jan. 11 and they would have to call a special session to make the decision.

"Not just our own employees but our families would do a lot of handwringing as they were trying to figure out what will happen after the holidays," Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said.

Stiepleman said pushing elementary in-person learning back to Jan. 19 would give leaders a chance to reevaluate the state of COVID in the area after the holidays.

Columbia Missouri National Education Association President Kathy Steinhoff said she hopes the board follows the experts when making decisions about education models, saying it is not safe to go back to in-person with the current case rate.

POLL: Should Columbia Public Schools students return to classrooms next month?

"Teachers don't like virtual learning either. We would much rather be in person, we are with parents and teachers that believe most of our students would be learning better if we were in person" Steinhoff said. "We look forward to when we can do that... but that day is when the rates are below 10 for 10,000 for 2 weeks."

The Columbia Missouri State Teacher Association co-president Kerri Stith supported staying online that week.

"We know that some students are struggling virtually, but all students parents and staff struggle when we go back and forth in short periods of time," Stith said.

The superintendent also said the district is changing quarantine policies, mainly impacting workers in the district. Teachers are able to return on day 11 after exposure but must wear a mask and social distance. There are some exceptions like coaches and directors.

The board also approved the purchase of air purifiers for classrooms to reduce the spread of COVID-19. According to board documents, the cost of the "ionization devices" is about $1.2 million and will be covered by the Facilities and Construction Services operating fund.

COVID-19 related leave was also extended for all CPS employees until June 30. It was originally set to expire at the end of this year.

Watch the discussion about the return to classrooms replay in the player below.

The 14-day case rate per 10,000 people living in the Columbia Public Schools' attendance area continued to go up since the district originally went online.

Since then, the rate hit an all-time high of 111.7 cases per 10,000 people on Nov. 23. It has since gone down and hit 94.1 on Sunday.

Columbia Public Schools Case Rate Tracker, showing the day the board approved Elementary students to go online until Jan. 11.
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Connor Hirsch

Connor Hirsch reports for the weekday night shows, as well as Sunday nights.

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